While cancer remains one of the most dreaded diseased in the workforce and in life, many of the benefits that companies offer are not being utilized to their fullest extent, according to a new guide published by Northeast Business Group on Health released this week. The guide, “Improving the Cancer Patient Experience: Putting Employees at the Center of Your Cancer Benefits Strategy,” aims to provide human resources and benefits leaders with details on how to best help employees dealing with a cancer diagnosis. “Benefits leaders need to be thinking about not just that employees get the right clinical care at the right time, but be prepared to address other issues that surround this very complex illness,” says Candice Sherman, chief executive officer of NEBGH. Employers have already made strides to add new services to their standard cancer benefit offerings, but patients are often unaware these benefits exist, says Sherman. In some cases, a health plan may only learn about the employee’s condition months after the diagnosis when the patient’s insurance claims are being processed. In other cases, an employer may have too many vendors involved in the cancer care discussion, which can lead to frustration and confusion for the patient or caregiver. Employers can do a better job helping patients to utilize cancer benefits by developing a more streamlined approach to dealing with cancer, says NEGBH. The new guide provides suggestions for employers on how to improve the patient experience. Cancer is a complex disease that requires input from medical experts, case managers, disability managers, pharmacy benefit managers and others, and if benefits leaders do not have streamlined communication across all vendors, this can frustrate the patient, and caregiver, Sherman says. “The danger is sometimes you end up with an array of vendors who are not necessarily in communication, or collaboration with one another,” she says. “It could mean things like an employee or family member is getting repeated calls asking the same questions from a variety of different people.” Sherman suggests that benefits leaders make employees aware of the cancer benefits the company offers on a recurring basis. Regardless of the size of the employer or the type of benefits offered, communication is key. Sending out information once a year just isn’t going to cut it, she says. “Because when you’re facing a diagnosis, the last thing you want to do is start sorting through all of your paper work,” she says. The guide details multiple strategies for benefits leaders assisting an employee that just received a cancer diagnosis. It suggests a “cancer care huddle” where a benefits leader coordinates with multiple stakeholders to ensure the employee receives the best care. The guide emphasizes a step-by-step plan for employers after a patient receives a cancer diagnosis, like obtaining a second medical opinion to ensure correct diagnosis and confirming the patient is comfortable with their treatment plan. The better coordinated the services, the guide notes, the more likely they are to be used effectively. Sherman adds that many employers make outside services, like local and national cancer resources, available to patients when necessary. For example if any employee is concerned about the financial burden of cancer care and expensive treatments that may not be covered by their health plan, a benefits leader can refer them to outside service that may be able to assist them. “Even [smaller] employers that may not have these types of support services or vendors available, there’s always something we can do to help smooth the path for employees or family members with a cancer diagnosis,” Sherman says. Another key element of cancer care is making sure that employees have access to mental healthcare. A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, and employers should not neglect the emotional toll it can place on an employee and their family, Sherman says. Social and emotional support should be one of the first considerations a benefits leader takes upon learning about an employee’s cancer diagnosis. “There’s a heavy duty fear component that doesn’t necessarily accompany other diseases and conditions,” she says.
A new guide developed by the Northeast Business Group on Health aims to help employers navigate the clinical and emotional complexities of offering cancer-care benefits. When employers have an understanding of those benefits, it leads to better outcomes for employees and family members facing a cancer diagnosis, according to the business group. "Cancer repeatedly is near the top of our members' lists when it comes to conditions of concern," both from the perspective of the severity of the illness and the cost of care, said Candice Sherman, CEO of NEBGH. While many large employers have expanded cancer resources for employees and family members through care coordination and second-opinion services, these efforts are not always as well coordinated as they should be, said Sherman. The guide, called "Improving the Cancer Patient Experience: Putting Employees at the Center of Your Cancer Benefits Strategy," suggested creating command centers or "huddles" to coordinate cancer benefits to achieve better outcomes for employees and family members. In these huddles benefits leaders select a "quarterback," such as a nurse or care coordinator familiar with complex cancer care, to lead communication among the different parties involved in the care process, including health plans, wellness coaches and disability managers. —J.H.
Cancer diagnoses also create additional fear, stress, and confusion for plan members. Employees may require extensive communications from the health plan to determine the best course of action when diagnosed with cancer. “Navigating [the complexity of cancer] calls for an approach that improves quality, manages cost and improves the employee experience,” NEGBH said. “Consider this: employees may not even be aware that their company offers a range of cancer care services. After all, an employee handbook or benefits website isn’t the first place someone turns to after learning they might have cancer. That is a moment when they are afraid, stressed and overwhelmed. But that moment — just after a cancer diagnosis — is exactly when — if possible — the benefits department should get involved.”
As they make more cancer benefits available to their employees than ever, large employers need to consider offering more help to workers who have been diagnosed with cancer to navigate the maze of options. On Tuesday, the Northeast Business Group on Health released a guide to help employers do just that. "Many employers have a variety of vendors and other people internally who can provide health to someone with a cancer diagnosis," said Candice Sherman, the CEO of NEBGH. With a "constellation" of different offerings from those vendors, newly diagnosed patients can find themselves fielding calls from different companies including their health plan, a second opinion service, a disability manager, navigation services and wellness coaches. "And a newly diagnosed cancer patient likely isn't in the best of all minds to sit down and figure out all the options that are available to them," Sherman said. One of the most important ways companies can handle this? Introduce their vendors to each other. This is crucial "so they know what the other does and can more seamlessly work together," Sherman said.
With growing numbers of working people providing informal care for sick or elderly relatives and friends, employers face new challenges—but also new opportunities— to support caregiver employees and, in the process, ensure a productive and stable workforce. This article addresses the difficulties employees can face when work and caregiving intersect and how employers can offer support regardless of company size or resources. Companies that wish to attract the best and brightest talent, as well as retain high-quality staff, need to offer competitive benefits. Across the corporate landscape, these have already started to include caregiving benefits.
"I do think we need to go beyond technology in order to disrupt some of the perverse incentives embedded in the status quo, and that's going to require purchasers—on a bigger scale—to push real delivery-system reform," said Candice Sherman, interim chief executive of the Northeast Business Group on Health, of which JPMorgan Chase is a member.
"Employers want to make sure they have a healthy and productive workforce and retain and attract employees," said Candice Sherman, CEO of the Northeast Business Group on Health, an employer-based coalition. "So an attractive benefits package is obviously a plus."
As more employees self-identify as caregivers for family members and friends, employers are starting to address the needs of workers who struggle to balance work while caring for others. The numbers are staggering. One in six U.S. employees identify as a caregiver for a family member or friend, according to research by Family Caregiver Alliance. An AARP study found that U.S. businesses lose more than $25 billion annually in lost productivity due to absenteeism among full-time working caregivers, and that figure grows an additional $3 billion when part-time workers with caregiving duties are accounted for.
To help employers get a jump start on creating caregiver-friendly workplaces, AARP and the Northeast Business Group on Health have produced a free online tool kit, chock-full of ideas and examples, expert resources and an assessment tool to gauge how well they're doing in providing assistance. Employers can find the tool at workandcaregiving.org.
Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) and AARP launched a free guide called “Supporting Caregivers in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Employers.” The guide, the human resources industry’s first publication of its kind, contains tools, resources, and guidance to help employers of all sizes create workplace policies to help support employees who are family caregivers.