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Initiative Announced Addressing the Costs of Cancer to Employers, Employees

By Kathy Gurchiek  12/21/2010
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Employers will have a series of comprehensive resources and tools for addressing issues surrounding employees and dependents who have cancer—including a toolkit covering general medical, pharmaceutical and mental health benefits—under an initiative announced Dec.16, 2010.

The National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) are collaborating on a three-year project that will culminate in an Employer’s Guide to Cancer Treatment and Prevention. The guide will be based on the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology.

The two groups kicked off the initiative during a news conference in Washington, D.C. NBGH is a nonprofit association of more than 300 large U.S. employers. NCCN is a not-for-profit alliance of 21 of the world’s leading cancer centers.

“There is a tremendous amount of expertise at NCCN,” said CEO William T. McGivney. That expertise will be brought to bear in information on cancer screening, integrating the different components of a benefits plan, treatment options, and integrating medical, pharmaceutical and benefits plans, he added.

“Employers need guidance as the whole process for cancer care advances,” McGivney said during the news conference. It’s critical that purchasers and care providers work together from prevention through treatment and long-term follow-up to make sure the services provided “are optimal in terms of safety, effectiveness and efficiency,” he said in a news release.

The spectrum of information will be made public over the next three years and will be available for free, according to Helen Darling, NBGH president and CEO.

“Although cancer patients only represent 1.6 percent of the privately insured population, they account for 10 percent of employers’ medical claims cost,” she said.

The indirect costs of cancer to employers include an estimated $136 billion annually in lost productivity, according to the NBGH. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and it is the second leading cause of long-term disability, behind musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders.

Through their collaboration, NBGH and NCCN plan to:

  • Establish a 25-member National Advisory Committee on Employer Services for the Cancer Continuum of Care. It will make recommendations for the full range of benefits and programs, including design and resources integration, that address cancer.

  • Create a quick reference summary document that will help employers determine whether their benefits are consistent with evidence-based cancer care and to ensure that access to care is consistent with NCCN-recommended guidelines.

  • Develop an Employer Cancer Health Benefits Toolkit that covers the continuum of cancer care.

  • Create a companion set of benefit manager guides that focus on productivity indicators—incidental absences, short- and long-term disability, family medical leave, workers’ compensation and employee assistance programs.

  • Develop tools for employees on cancer survivorship, health promotion and wellness that will include fact sheets, brochures and other literature related to cancer treatment and care.

The intent, Darling said, is to “meet employers’ pressing needs on benefits, programs and services related to evidence-based cancer care.” The information that is available is fragmented “and not oriented to employers, and in some instances, to employees,” she added.

She pointed to a relative who received the wrong cancer care for two years, which worsened his condition.

“That’s what we’re trying to avoid: people looking for care … [and] not getting what they should be getting, state-of-the-science care,” resulting in “tremendous waste and human suffering.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

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