How employers can support employees during cancer treatment

Many people with cancer are choosing to continue working during their treatment. Read this blog post to learn how employers can support their employees during their cancer treatment.

Thanks to more sensitive diagnostic testing, earlier diagnosis and new treatments, the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. has grown to 15.5 million, and that number is projected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026. In addition, about 1.7 million Americans are projected to be diagnosed with cancer this year. A large percentage of these cancer patients and survivors are still active members of the workforce and the numbers have the potential to increase even more as people remain in the workforce beyond age 65.

Some people with cancer choose to continue working during treatment. Reasons for continuing to work can be psychological as well as financial. For some, their job or career is a big part of the foundation of their identity. A survey conducted by the non-profit Cancer and Careers found that 48% of those surveyed said they continued to work during treatment because they wanted to keep their lives as normal as possible, and 38% said they worked so that they felt productive. Being in the workforce also provides a connection to a supportive social system for many people and boosts their self-esteem and quality of life.

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There also are financial benefits to the employer when employees continue to work during cancer treatment. Turnover costs, including hiring temporary employees and training replacement employees, are high. The cost of turnover for employees who earn $50,000 per year or less (which is approximately 75% of U.S. workers) average 20% of salary. For senior and executive level employees, that cost can reach 213% of salary. In addition, it can be costly to lose the experience, expertise, contacts and customer relationships employees have built.

This raises the question for employers: How can I support employees who choose to work while undergoing cancer treatment? Providing that support can be complex as employers work to balance their legal responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities and Family and Medical Leave Acts with the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

When an employee chooses to share his or her diagnosis with a supervisor or HR representative, employers should view this disclosure as the beginning of a conversation with the employee taking the lead. (It’s up to the employee what information he or she wants to disclose about the diagnosis and treatment and with whom the information can be shared within the organization.) Here are four ways employers can support employees who are getting cancer treatment.

Help employees understand what benefits are available

The first step an employer should take is to refer the employee to the organization’s human resources manager (or someone who handles HR matters if the organization is smaller and does not have a human resources department) so that person can share information about all available benefits and pertinent policies. Provide details on:

  • Medical and prescription drug coverages, including deductibles, co-pays, precertification requirements, network healthcare providers and plan and lifetime maximums
  • Leave policies
  • Flexible scheduling and remote work options, if available
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Community resources and support groups

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Offer professional guidance

Offering patient navigator or case management services can also be beneficial. Navigators and case managers can provide a range of services including:

  • Connecting employees with healthcare providers
  • Arranging second opinions
  • Providing evidence-based information on the type of cancer the employee has been diagnosed with and options for treatments
  • Help filing health insurance claims, reviewing medical bills and handling medical paperwork
  • Coordinating communication and medical records among members of the treatment team
  • Attending appointments with employees
  • Answering employee questions about treatments and managing side effects

Make accommodations

Workplace accommodations are another key pillar of support for employees working during cancer treatment. In addition to flexible scheduling, to accommodate medical appointments and help employees manage side effects like fatigue and nausea, and the option of working from home, workplace accommodations can include:

  • Temporary assignment to a less physically taxing job
  • Substituting video conferencing or online meetings for travel, which can be difficult for employees dealing with fatigue or a suppressed immune system, and can make it hard to attend needed medical appointments
  • Leave sharing for employees who have used all their paid time off and can’t afford to take unpaid leave. Some organizations offer leave banks or pools where employees can “deposit” or donate some of their vacation days for employees dealing with a serious illness to use.

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Employees may continue to need accommodations after treatment ends if they face late side effects such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, numbness caused by nerve damage or heart or lung problems. Continuing job and schedule modifications can help mitigate the situation.

Ask for employee input

An often overlooked part of supporting employees who are working during cancer treatment is asking the employee what types of support he or she needs and prefers. Employees can share any medical restrictions related to their condition, what types of accommodations or equipment will help them do their job, and what schedule changes will allow them to attend needed appointments and recover from treatment. This should be an ongoing conversation because the employee’s needs are likely to change over the course of treatment and recovery.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (21 September 2018) "How employers can support employees during cancer treatment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

One compelling reason to participate in a wellness plan

Originally posted by Dan Cook on July 16, 2015 on

In the midst of questions about the effectiveness of wellness programs, one advocate for such programs says the results of a recent survey show that wellness initiatives greatly reduce the risk that a person's chronic condition will go undiagnosed.

The group, HealthMine, a consumer health engagement company, polled 750 people enrolled in wellness programs and found that 28 percent of participants had been diagnosed with a chronic condition in the past two years. Almost half of those (46 percent) had received their diagnosis through the wellness program, suggesting that they may have gone much longer without treatment had the program not been available.

HealthMine described the findings as particularly salient with regards to some of the most pressing American health concerns, noting that a third of those who suffer from diabetes are unaware of it. The solution, suggests HealthMine, is to expand the availability of wellness programs as well as to increase the number of health tests that allow people to better understand their health vulnerabilities.

A separate poll that HealthMine conducted of 1,200 consumers found 74 percent support the use of genetic tests in wellness programs to help consumers identify health risks.

Moreover, most of the survey respondents signaled they would take part in various health screenings if they were offered by their employer.

The survey nevertheless showed far greater resistance to certain health screenings than to others. Nearly three-quarters said they would be up to do a screening for vision or blood pressure, and 69 percent said they would do a cholesterol screening. But only 58 percent said they would do a cancer screening, 54 percent said they would do a BMI screening and only 41 percent said they were up for a skin analyzer.

HealthMine CEO Bryce Williams said these surveys suggest that only when consumers are aware of their own health conditions will wellness programs meet their full potential.

"To succeed, wellness programs must enable people to learn their key health facts, and connect individuals to their personal clinical data anytime, anywhere,” he said. “When consumers and plans are empowered with knowledge, wellness programs can make recommendations meaningful to individuals, and help to prevent and manage chronic disease."

A past study suggested that while companies do typically hope that wellness programs can help them keep down health care costs, their top motivation for doing the programs is to improve the health of their employees.

Employers can help in cancer prevention, treatment

Originally posted November 20, 2013 by Andy Stonehouse on

A cancer diagnosis is not just a life-changing event for an employee and his or her family, it’s also increasingly become a gigantic consideration in the overall costs of employer-sponsored insurance plans.

Learning to cope with treatment – or even the time or alternative work arrangements required for an employee helping a loved one dealing with cancer – can be a challenge for any HR professional, but a new guide hopes to provide better understanding and also offer some broader cancer prevention suggestions for America’s workers.

The National Business Group on Health’s An Employer’s Guide to Cancer Treatment and Prevention, released Nov. 20, represents three years of work with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network on strategies and standards to help cope with the ever-increasing social and financial cost of cancer treatment.

NBGH notes that cancer treatment, one of the top three conditions dealt with on a national level, ends up consuming approximately 12% of total medical expenses, across the board; as well, nearly a quarter of employees end up taking time in a caregiving role to family members dealing with cancer treatment of their own.

In practical terms, NBGH’s new guide can help employers set up, implement and then measure the success of a variety of cancer-related strategies.

Lynn Zonakis, managing director of health strategy and resources at Delta Air Lines, Inc., says her company has taken similar efforts to more effectively address the reality of cancer issues in the workplace – an important venue for discussing a disease with such a broad impact.

“Employers can play a major role in keeping workers healthy and also supporting cancer patients during treatment and return to work,” Zonakis says. “Large employers, especially, have the ability to specifically design health benefits to their workforce. This three-year project has certainly helped shape Delta’s approach and commitment to addressing cancer in the workplace.”

For Delta, that’s included initiatives such as full coverage for recommended cancer screenings, a Centers of Excellence program and even Delta Health Direct, a specialized concierge service which provides confidential access to coaching, a nurse line, disease support and even suggestions on treatment decision-making.

The Employer’s Guide offers six tools that have been developed based on recommendations from the NCCN’s Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, each coinciding with the entire planning and rollout of a full employer benefit program: plan design, enrollment, plan administration and evaluation.

The guide also offers insight on the broader issues in cancer care, ranging from medical, pharmacy and behavioral benefits to the best utilization of short-term disability, family medical leave and employee assistance programs.

“With significant gains in cancer survival rates and most cancer survivors staying at work during their treatment or returning to work after their treatment, employers need a comprehensive benefits plan to ensure that their current strategies to address cancer in the workplace complement the needs of their employees,” says Helen Darling, president and CEO of the NBGH.


Nearly Half of Critical Illness Insurance Claims begin prior to Age 55

Just under half (47%) of new critical illness insurance claims in 2011 began prior to age 55 according to the 2012 Buyer & Claimant Study conducted by the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance (AACII) and General Re Life Corporation.  This marks a significant increase in claims by younger policyholders compared to the prior year’s analysis.

The percentage of claims that occurred before age 45 grew compared to 2010.  Some 13 percent of male policyholders and 12 percent of female policyholders who received benefits were younger than 45 according to the data from 10 leading critical illness insurers.  “The increase in younger claimants is likely due to an increase in younger buyers of this relatively new form of insurance coverage,” explains Jesse Slome, executive director of the recently formed critical illness insurance trade group.  “With higher health insurance deductibles and more restrictive plans, critical illness insurance is starting to gain traction among buyers in their 30s and 40s.”

The study found a pronounced year-to-year increase in the number of claims paid to policyholders between ages 35 and 44.  Some 8 percent of new claims by men and 10 percent women occurred at these ages in 2011, versus four percent reported by the prior year’s study.   The greatest decline in claims occurred after age 55.

The study revealed that cancer remains the leading cause for new individual claims accounting for 61 percent of new claims.  Heart attacks accounted for 11 percent and stroke for 18 percent of new claims.

Researchers analyzed data for over 57,000 purchasers of individual critical illness insurance policies as well as claims reported by leading insurers for the time period January 1 to December 31, 2011. The American Association for Critical Illness Insurance is the national trade association providing information to consumers and insurance professionals.  Free access to the organization's online learning, marketing and sales center is offered to insurance and financial professionals.  For further information, visit the Website: or call (818) 597-3205.

American Association for Critical Illness Insurance study conducted by General Re Life Corporation, 2012