The National Business Group on Health has launched an ambitious, three-year initiative aimed at helping employers design benefit plans that reflect the latest information and expert recommendations on cancer treatment and prevention.

In partnership with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a not-for-profit alliance of the world's leading cancer centers, NBGH will develop a comprehensive set of resources for employers that will encompass the entire spectrum of cancer-related benefits and workplace programs. This "Employer's Guide to Cancer Treatment and Prevention" will be based on NCCN's clinical guidelines, which include expert judgment on and evidence-based recommendations for every aspect of the cancer care continuum.

"Over the past nine years, NBGH has specialized in translating evidence-based health care information and science to employers and employees, whether it's the latest word on mammograms or tobacco cessation programs, flu shots, or stress in the workplace," says Helen Darling, NBGH president and CEO. "We're now targeting cancer because some of these diseases have become much more important in health distribution."

Cancer is a far-reaching problem in the United States; almost 1.5 million new cases were diagnosed in 2009, and more than 10 million Americans have a history of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Cancer is the second-leading cause of long-term disability and the sixth-leading cause of short-term disability. Research suggests that it results in at least $136 billion in lost productivity annually.

Moreover, advances in treatment mean that many cancers are becoming chronic diseases. "They're not terminal, but they're not cured," says Darling. "A person can be dealing with cancer for 20 years, and much of that time they'll spend working."

This is why it is critical that the purchasers and providers of care work together to assure that the services delivered along the cancer continuum, from prevention through treatment and long-term follow-up, are optimal in terms of safety, effectiveness and efficiency, notes William T. McGivney, CEO of NCCN.

"What we want to do is fine-tune the benefits structure we have now rather than add new programs," he says. "People are still talking about integrating and coordinating health insurance and pharmacy benefits. We want to look at the whole patient. Benefits need to be updated and better integrated with what's happening in the world of medicine."

"While there is an abundance of information about cancer, currently there is a vacuum for the delivery of treatment, prevention and support services associated with cancer in the workplace," says Darling. "The deliverables of this project are intended to eliminate this vacuum by providing systematic, evidence-based approaches to care design and delivery."

Over the next three years, NBGH and NCCN intend to roll out the following resources as part of the "Comprehensive Cancer Strategy and Benefits for Employers" project:

* a quick-reference "Summary Document on Employee Sponsored Benefit Design, Pharmacy Benefits, and Contracting with Health Plans" that will help employers determine whether their current benefits are consistent with evidence-based cancer care and will ensure access to care consistent with recommended NCCN guidelines

* an "Employer Cancer Health Benefits Toolkit" covering general medical, pharmacy, and mental health benefits

* a companion set of "Benefit Manager Guides" for other strategic audiences, such as disability managers, focused on the productivity indicators including incidental absence, short- and long-term disability, family medical leave, workers' compensation and EAPs

* "Tools for Employees: Cancer Survivorship, Health Promotion and Wellness," which will include fact sheets, brochures and other literature on various aspects of cancer, treatment and care

The project will be guided by a 25-member National Advisory Committee on Employer Services for the Cancer Continuum of Care, which will develop recommendations for the design, quality assurance, structure and integration of resources, programs and services around the full range of benefits and programs, including health plans, health and productivity programs and health promotion/wellness services.

"Employers are becoming more and more concerned about cancer in their employees and families," Darling concludes. "Clearly, it is important that employers educate their beneficiaries about preventable forms of cancer. Moreover, employers need to implement strategies to manage and support employees who are diagnosed with cancer and also provide programs and services aimed at employee caregivers. This project will go a long way toward helping employers meet this challenge."

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