When an employee or family member is diagnosed with cancer, they face anxieties and fears about the financial, emotional and practical implications of this life-changing finding. A new report from the Northeast Business Group on Health offers employers guidance on how to help patients get higher value clinical care for the dollars spent on treatment.
Cancer is a notoriously complex illness to deal with, but employers can ease some of the burden on workers with the disease by clearly communicating what benefits and resources are available and helping them understand all their options, according to a recent report from the Northeast Business Group on Health. Guidance from human resources departments is particularly helpful when employees with cancer are navigating how health benefits apply to sites of medical care, such as how specific medical practices handle palliative care or second opinions, Jeremy Nobel, physician and executive director of the NEBGH’s Solutions Center, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 7. Additionally, employers must make sure workers have access to high quality care as easily as possible so that they can make choices in the best interests of themselves and their families, he said.
Employers can be proactive about providing higher quality cancer care for employees and their families, reports the Northeast Business Group on Health. The agency’s report, High Value Cancer Care: Guidance for Employers, tells employers to send workers to websites promoting quality cancer care, advise them to get second opinions and educate them about the benefits of getting early treatment for serious illnesses.
Laurel Pickering, president and chief executive of the Northeast Business Group on Health, which represents employers, attributed the more rapid growth in employers' costs to higher costs of care in New York and rising drug costs.
To combat escalating health care costs, local employers are shifting expenses to employees through high-deductible plans, and investing more in health management programs that aim to keep workers' chronic illnesses in check, Pickering said.
Laurel Pickering, president and chief executive of the Northeast Business Group on Health, which represents employers, attributed the more rapid growth in employers' costs to higher costs of care in New York and rising drug costs. To combat escalating health care costs, local employers are shifting more costs to employees through high-deductible health plans, and they're investing more in health management programs that aim to keep workers' chronic illnesses in check, she said.
Meanwhile, the Northeast Business Group on Health, an employer-led coalition, will deploy its $225,000 grant for its Safe birth NY program to help women in New York City and on Long Island make more informed decisions in choosing where to give birth by creating an online scorecard that utilizes maternal-quality data. For example, a woman's risk for a C-section varies widely, depending on where she delivers her baby, according to the grant application.
Given the absolute flurry of coverage plans that is stressing employees out when it comes to health care options, it's alarming to think that the need to provide helpful, targeted treatment for employees struggling with cancer might not be getting enough attention. What NEBGH and other voices in the space seem to agree upon is that addressing cancer in the workplace effectively starts with a focus on treatment outcomes. Employers should certainly familiarize themselves with the differences between treatment centers (including centers of excellence), the efficacy of various treatment options and variations in chemotherapy cost. As usual, HR should keep ADA and other workplace requirements in mind and approach these situations with empathy.
Many employers and insurers have come up with a simple way to avoid the problem for many of their clients: exempt medicine for diabetes and other chronic conditions from deductibles in the first place. But why not break up the rebate checks and send the cash back to the patients who paid for the drugs? Representatives of corporate health plans say it would be impractical to do so because they get the money months after employees bought the drugs. Says Laurel Pickering, chief executive of the Northeast Business Group on Health, a coalition of large employers: “It would be very difficult to figure out how to administer that.”
New research from the Northeast Business Group on Health reveals that targeted, personalized programs combined with nutrition and fitness activities could help increase the effectiveness of employers’ efforts to tackle the obesity epidemic. The study reveals that obesity is one of the biggest drivers of employer healthcare costs, with more than $73.1 billion spent annually. Therefore it is not surprising that NEBGH’s employer members rank weight control as one of the top three conditions that need to be addressed through workplace wellness or disease management. “Obesity of employees is a concern for employees because they want to attract and retain a healthy and productive workforce with high performance capabilities,” says study co-author and NEBGH’s Medical Director Dr. Jeremy Nobel. “There’s also the need to manage healthcare costs, because obesity significantly increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, musculoskeletal disorders and cancer.” Many organizations offer programs such as nutritional education, onsite healthy eating and subsidized gym memberships. However, employers report that obstacles to success include lack of employee engagement due to stigma or embarrassment plus the cost of implementing new programs. There is also uncertainty about return on investment. Employers can typically determine the health status of their employee population based on aggregate data captured by voluntary, individual completion of confidential health risk assessments. “Individual identities are blinded but average data can be analyzed to gain insight into the particular burden on one employer vs another,” Nobel says. A targeted and confidential plan of attack To avoid violating confidentiality, the design of communications to employees about customized programs must be thoughtful and cautious. “You invite people with very specific and clear messages. For example, you could say ‘if you have a Body Mass Index of 35, this program may be useful for you,’” he continues. “People can self-identify and self-refer into programs like virtual coaching or support groups that are most appropriate and most likely to be effective for them.” The report features a case study describing successful, personalized interventions by the New Jersey-based utility company Public Service Enterprise Group in partnership with the Chicago-based weight-management company Retrofit. PSEG’s employees had an average age of 48, were 85% male and 73% overweight or obese. They work in a highly technical environment. Eligibility for the Retrofit pilot required employees to have a BMI of 30 or above and commit to at least one year of the program. The first six months focused on weight loss and the second half of the year on habit formation. Participants had a coach they could meet with in person or via video, according to their preference. They received a fitness tracker and wireless scale. One hundred and twelve employees enrolled from eight different sites and after four months 92% were still participating. Over the same period, 89% of the group lost weight and a total of 800 pounds were lost collectively. Five employees moved out of the morbidly obese category into a lower risk group. PSEG used data to demonstrate need and identify a strong enough business case to obtain executive leadership, management and obtain union support. Because of the high rate of obesity in the employee population, in order to scale the pilot, PSEG decided to target the most at-risk employees with a BMI of 35 or greater in the first year of a three-year contract with Retrofit. Nobel agrees that it is important to base programming on employee data and establish success metrics for a program before it is rolled out. “In addition to engagement dynamics and weight loss, you can measure improvement in co-morbid conditions like hypertension or diabetes,” he says. “For example you can look at the cohort and say the average abnormal blood pressure of 145 over 95 dropped to a normal reading of 140 over 90 in eight weeks.”
Mental illness can become evident in many different ways. Some conditions affect a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and vary from mild to severe. Mental health problems can also affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Every person will have different experiences, even those with the same diagnosis. When looking specifically at workplace productivity, depression, anxiety and substance use cast a heavy burden on an employee. These behavioral health conditions exact an enormous personal and social cost, affecting not only a person’s health but also his or her ability to work.