It’s time to incorporate cancer screenings into your client's wellness program

Scott Wilson, an employee at brewing company Molson Coors in Denver, was diagnosed with stage four metastatic colorectal cancer in 2016. His billed costs for that disease: upward of $1.3 million to date, with significant dollars paid out for non-covered medical expenses.

As a consequence of a later-stage diagnosis, colon and liver resections were necessary coupled with aggressive treatment using chemotherapy and Vectobix — a newer and costly immunotherapy that is priced at $8,000 per week. On average, more than 40,000 people undergo treatment for metastatic colorectal cancer each year and the cost of treatment varies depending on the stage at diagnosis, treatment response and plan.

The availability of newer FDA-approved novel immunotherapies have shown to be beneficial responses to this deadly cancer, but at staggering costs that can be upward of $400,000 per year at market introduction, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Today, about 60% of diagnosed colorectal cases are discovered in later stage disease due to under-screening — a third of the eligible population have never been screened or are not up-to-date with screening guidelines. As a result, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with any stage of colorectal cancer and about 51,000 people die of this cancer annually. A recent study examined 1,750 colorectal cancer deaths from 2006 to 2012 in the Kaiser Permanente Health System — 76% of those deaths occurred in patients who were never screened or were not up-to-date with screening.

Cancer screening in the workplace

Last year, the American Cancer Society lowered the colorectal cancer screening age to 45 based on the rising rates of cancer trending in younger age populations — other cancer organization’s recommendations remain at age 50. Employers are in a unique position to reinforce and support these national recommendations among their employees.

Chemo.Cancer.Getty.jpg
Woman with Breast Cancer Receiving Chemotherapy; caregiver looking on.

Employees between 50 and 65 years of age have the lowest screening rates for colorectal cancer screening, and are typically covered by employer-sponsored health plans. Employers find offering cancer screening programs that reward participation via health and wellness programs are reducing disease risk and financial burdens for themselves and their employees.

The costs for treatment of cancer are more than double the rate of other healthcare expenses. For an employer, the impact of a late versus an early stage diagnosis is significant. National expenditures for treatment and care of colorectal cancer are second only to breast cancer.

In people age 65 and younger, the U.S spends in excess of $7.4 billion for treatment of colorectal cancer. For those employees diagnosed with any stage of colorectal cancer, a large percentage of costs are paid out by company-sponsored health plans despite the implementation of high-deductible health plans.

It would seem prudent to institute a screening initiative to find cancer early in your employee populations, or prevent it altogether by supporting screening for preventable cancers. Employees who test positive are referred by their physician for diagnostic colonoscopy to determine if colorectal cancer is present or to remove precancerous polyps or lesions. The intangible costs associated with cancer is the time off of work for treatment and lost productivity.

Most companies administer a wellness program for employees and families, like Molson Coors, but only about 20% offer colorectal cancer screening. Incorporating a blood test as a preventive cancer screening strategy alongside workplace wellness programs can get employees up-to-date with screening recommendations. Employers who are interested in instituting a colorectal cancer screening program in the office should consider the following suggestions.

Incorporate CRC screening into wellness programs. Screenings provide the opportunity to identify risks early and can bridge the gap between doctor office visits for employees who do not see their providers on a regular or annual basis.

Partner with third party administrators. Third party administration services can ensure HIPAA regulations are followed for privacy. TPAs also will arrange for the delivery of results.

Create communications campaigns. Target your messaging to those eligible for colorectal cancer screening and make sure to cite the correct statistics for benefits and risk.

Reward participation. Participation is shown to increase when incentives are provided to reward participation. Decide what incentives work for your employees – PTO, financial rewards, gym memberships, coupons or gift cards.

Follow up. Plan for next steps based on employee screenings. Results should be provided in a timely manner to enable employees.

Wilson, the Molson Coors employee, remains in remission for nearly 20 months. He’s since devoted his time to advocate for access to colorectal cancer screening, especially in the workplace. Wilson recently joined the Colorectal Cancer Alliance organization as a board member, a non-profit dedicated to reducing the incidence of colorectal cancer through their many efforts aimed at prevention and awareness. He also wrote a book, “Through the Window: A Photographic Tale of Cancer Recovery” for the alliance. Wilson has been an advocate for the vital need for employee access and employer support for CRC screening in the workplace.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.