Survey: Benefit Managers Unaware of Breast Cancer Screening Gaps

1 in 5 HR professionals inaccurately report their cancer screening coverage

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Oct 25, 2016
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Both employee benefits managers and working women often wrongly assume their employer health plans cover an advanced screening technology for early detection of breast cancer—breast tomosynthesis, also known as a 3D mammography exam.

In a recent survey sponsored by Bright Pink, a nonprofit that advocates for the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer, many respondents were unaware that their company health plans may not cover 3D mammography exams, which are recommended as an option for breast cancer screening by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a nonprofit alliance of cancer centers focused on improving the quality of cancer care.

"We talked to women and HR professionals at many major corporations that are listed as good workplaces for women and should have a strong interest in guaranteeing access to the preventive services that keep women healthy," said Sarah Storey, president of Chicago-based Bright Pink. "Our research shows that working women and employee benefits managers strongly support access to 3D mammography exams without additional out-of-pocket costs to women."

Some employee benefits managers assume incorrectly that their health plans cover the better mammograms—and many others just don't know:

  • 20 percent of HR professionals inaccurately reported that their company covers the cost of 3D mammograms when their health plan provider, in fact, does not.

  • Another 31 percent didn't know if 3D mammograms are covered by their company's plan.

In addition, working women seem unaware if they lack coverage. Ninety-four percent of women say they are somewhat or very satisfied with their plan's coverage of women's health services. But only one national plan (Cigna) covers 3D mammography exams. "This means that the majority of working women are enrolled in health plans that don't cover 3D mammography exams for breast cancer screening," Storey noted.

"We all want to believe that we have great insurance coverage, but unfortunately plans rarely boast about what they don't cover," she added. "Employee benefits managers should ask their insurance plan if they cover 3D mammography exams for breast cancer screening rather than just assume they're covered—and if they are covered, they should let the women on their plan know."

The survey, conducted in September, included 1,500 interviews of women ages 30-65 who work for large companies and 51 employee benefits managers at large companies. The findings also revealed that:

  • 96 percent of working women say it is very important that their mammogram detects cancer as early as possible, uses the most advanced technology available and is covered by insurance.

  • Black women, who are at greater risk than white women of dying of breast cancer, are particularly supportive of early detection, and 98 percent say it is very important for their mammogram to detect cancer as early as possible.

  • 48 percent of women who have had a mammogram say they have been called back for additional tests. Since 3D mammogram exams reduce unnecessary callbacks by 15 percent, this number could be lower if more women had access to the better mammogram, Storey said.

Six in 10 employee benefits managers said they were willing to reach out to their health plans or their company management to get 3D mammograms covered, the survey found.

"We're very encouraged by this willingness to advocate on behalf of the women in their workforce," said Storey, who encouraged employers to educate women about breast and ovarian health.

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