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CEOs Unite to Fight Cancer in the Workforce

By Stephen Miller  4/22/2006
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A new initiative calls on CEOs to take concrete actions to promote cancer prevention, early detection and access to quality cancer care for their employees.

The CEO Cancer Gold Standard provides rigorous requirements for companies to evaluate their benefits and culture regarding cancer, and provides accreditation when those standards are met.

To become accredited, organizations are required to:

    • Establish policies prohibiting tobacco use indoors and out, as well as implement tobacco-cessation initiatives.

    • Offer coverage in the organizations' benefit plans for evidence-based counseling and prescription and non-prescription medications for smoking cessation, all at no cost to employees.

    • Execute similarly comprehensive programs to improve employees' diet and nutrition, physical activity, use of screenings, and access to quality cancer treatment and clinical trials.

Six organizations have announced their Gold Standard accreditation: AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., OSI Pharmaceuticals and the American Cancer Society (national home office). As many as 20 other employers from academia, banking, health care, insurance, manufacturing, retail and technology are targeted to receive accreditation by the end of 2007.

Together, the first group of employers reaches approximately 270,000 people.

"Through our programs, policies and communications channels, CEOs can do much to encourage healthy living and quality care," said William C. Weldon, chief executive officer of Johnson & Johnson and chairman of the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, a group of CEOs and business leaders from diverse industries united by a pledge to apply the untapped power of business to fight cancer and save lives. Robert A. Ingram, former CEO and chairman of Glaxo Wellcome, now GlaxoSmithKline, founded the roundtable in 2001.

The CEO Cancer Gold Standard is the group's first major initiative and the result of former President George Bush's challenge to CEOs to do something "bold and venturesome" to defeat cancer. To attain accreditation, employers have had to exceed the scope of typical corporate wellness efforts.

"I called upon CEOs because they are action-oriented people who know how to get things done," said former President Bush. "By creating the CEO Cancer Gold Standard, they have taken a giant step toward eliminating cancer deaths that are preventable. I now urge chief executives of organizations large and small to take the next step by adopting the Gold Standard, because it certainly will save lives." The American Cancer Society estimates that at least one-half of deaths from cancer can be prevented.

"In 2006 alone, close to 1.4 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer, and sadly, nearly 565,000 people will die from the disease," said Weldon, referencing the American Cancer Society's Cancer Facts & Figures 2006 report. "Through the CEO Cancer Gold Standardwith its emphasis on prevention and risk reductionwe will do everything possible to bring those numbers down, starting with our own employees."

The Costs of Cancer

In addition to robbing companies of their greatest resourcetheir peoplecancer cost them more than $118 billion in lost productivity in 2005 (according to the National Institutes of Health) and resulted in medical costs five times higher than those for employees without cancer (according to Cancer in the Workplace: Prevention, Detection and Support , sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Employer-covered screenings are a cost-effective way to detect cancer early and save lives, according to Cancer Screening: Payer Cost/Benefit Thru Employee Benefits Programs, a study commissioned by C-Change, an organization of cancer leaders, and the American Cancer Society and conducted by the actuarial firm Milliman. Below are a few additional findings on why fighting cancer is good business:

A population of 50,000 employees would experience three to five fewer deaths per year among employees and their dependents if companies invested in certain cancer-screening benefits.

On average, an employer would incur a cost of just $2.95 per member per month (PMPM) to increase compliance in breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings to fully meet the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention that systematically reviews the evidence of effectiveness and develops recommendations for clinical preventive services).

100 percent compliance would result in savings of between $2.35 and $3.75 PMPM in medical and non-medical costs, including disability and life insurance and the cost of replacing employees.

The American Cancer Society has said it will play a key role in helping to raise awareness of the Gold Standard among companies that are not accredited, assist in completion of accreditation submission and provide free or low-cost programs that help companies implement the Gold Standard.

"I'm proud of the role the American Cancer Society played in helping to develop the Gold Standard. This revolutionary concept will improve participating companies' bottom lines and relationships with their employees, and contribute to the worldwide fight against cancer," said John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., CEO of the American Cancer Society. "Adopting and consistently meeting these standards is, quite simply, the right thing to do."

"Tobacco-cessation programs are critical for the 45 million Americans who still smoke," said Cheryl Healton, Dr.P.H., president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, an organization that works to reduce the deadly toll of tobacco. "Research shows 70 percent of smokers want to quit, but many lack the tools and resources needed to quit successfully. Help from friends, family and employers is critical to their success."

She noted, "Tobacco remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans each year. Initiatives such as the Gold Standard can provide smokers with the support they need to quit and stay quit."

For more information on the CEO Cancer Gold Standard and the accreditation process, call 866-526-7830, a dedicated toll-free number staffed by the American Cancer Society, or visit www.cancergoldstandard.org .

Stephen Miller is the editor/manager of SHRM Online's Compensation & Benefits Focus Area.

Related Articles:

Executive Leadership for Health Care Cost Containment: Getting the Boss OnboardSHRM Online Benefits, February 2006

Developing a Cutting-Edge Wellness Program, SHRM Online Benefits, July 2005

Health-Risk Assessments, Better-Health Incentives Help Lower CostsSHRM Online Benefits, April 2005

Workplace WellnessTake It Up a NotchSHRM Online Benefits, February 2005 

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