Late-Stage Cancer Driving Rise in Employer Healthcare Costs
As healthcare costs rise around the country, employers are searching for answers as to what is causing these increases. A full two and a half years since COVID began, we are still seeing the effects of the pandemic on all parts of our society.
While countless Americans have been impacted by COVID directly, even more have faced indirect effects, and one of those indirect results is an increase in late-stage cancer diagnoses.
Why is late-stage cancer on the rise—and what should employers do about it? Read on to find out.
Why Is Late-Stage Cancer on the Rise?
According to a recent survey of employers representing over 18 million American workers, 13% of employers have already begun to see more late-stage cancer among their employees than before the pandemic, and another 44% expect to in the coming year.
The most likely culprit is delayed care. With so many healthcare facilities shut down for much of 2020 and continuing to limit visitors, many who might have had their cancer diagnosed earlier simply didn’t go to the doctor that year—missing out on screenings and other physician interactions that might have caught the cancer sooner, when it was easier to treat.
In other cases, symptoms a doctor would have noticed at a face-to-face visit could have gone unseen at a telehealth appointment. Or even more indirectly, tighter wallets from the economic challenges of the pandemic could have been a deterrent to preventive care.
The ultimate result of these factors is becoming clear, as people begin to suffer, and sometimes die, from cancers they didn’t know were already growing a year or two ago.
How Should Employers Respond to Rising Cancer Rates?
This phenomenon is a double-edged sword for employers. First, cancer is now the top driver of increases in employer health costs, and these higher costs are a major concern. At the same time, as stewards of employee health plans, employers are also responsible for providing options that encourage long-term health and wellness among their employees. Here’s what you can do to make a difference:
- Support preventive care. Encourage employees to schedule cancer screenings, wellness exams, mammograms, vaccinations, and other preventive measures to stay healthy and catch any concerns early. Remember, you control much of your employee’s time and compensation, so this encouragement needs to include tangible assistance. Choose health plans that cover preventive care, and give employees time to schedule and attend these appointments.
- Cover cancer centers of excellence. Choose health plans that include cancer centers of excellence as in-network providers. Facilities that receive this designation offer comprehensive oncology services, multiple treatment methods, and improved patient outcomes. Including them in your network can help ensure that if an employee gets a cancer diagnosis, they have access to the high-quality care they need at an affordable price.
- Consider preauthorization—but proceed with caution. Preauthorization is a process by which a health insurer deems a treatment or prescription medically necessary. It can help cut costs by decreasing frivolous treatment, but it also comes with a risk. Since preauthorization can be tedious and time-consuming to acquire, it can lead to delays in treatment—which is the very problem you’re trying to solve—so be sure to weigh the pros and cons when considering this option.
Overall, it’s important to remember that saving money on healthcare costs should always be balanced with protecting the best interests of employee health. Much like undiagnosed cancer, cutting corners on healthcare now can result in even costlier consequences down the road.
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