Buck Bond Group
The cost of cancer

The cost of cancer

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1 in 3 (or 750,000) of people with cancer in the UK are of working age.  This is estimated to rise to 1.7 million by 2030[1].  Few of us are lucky enough to be able to say that we haven’t experienced cancer personally, whether directly ourselves, or by way of a family, friend or colleague’s diagnosis.

The ripples of a cancer diagnosis spread far, from the immediate impact on the patient and their family (which can be physical, psychological, and financial), to the wider impact on colleagues who see increased workloads due to an absent team member, the employer who sees increased insurance costs, and fellow private medical insurance scheme members who may see their P11d tax rise due to increasing claims costs.

Working in employee benefits, we have seen the cost of providing cancer treatment escalating in recent years, due to advances in drugs and treatments, causing challenges to employers in funding the benefit.  There is no sign of this stopping, and one of the newest treatments, CAR-T Cell Therapy, can cost upwards of £400,000 per treatment; a cost which very few corporate healthcare schemes could support.

It is not all bad news, however.  There are some very simple things that we can all do to minimise our chances of developing cancer.  It is a stark fact that more than 135,500 cases of cancer per year in the UK could be prevented through simple lifestyle changes[2], with 21% of UK cancer cases being attributed to smoking and excess weight alone[3].

Historically, employers have tended to focus their benefit spend on fixing things once they have gone wrong (with sick pay, or insurance programmes, for example).  Recent years, however, have rightly seen increasing focus on, and investment in, programmes to prevent employees becoming ill in the first instance.  These programmes are particularly important in the area of cancer, given the ever increasing costs in this area.

While quitting smoking and improving your diet are theoretically simple changes to make, they aren’t necessarily easy, as anyone who has tried to shift a few pounds after the Christmas excesses can attest to.

There are many ways that employers can support employees to make positive changes to their lifestyles.  Wellbeing programmes (to help motivate and facilitate better behaviours) and facilitating early diagnosis (through education and screening programmes) can both have a place in your benefits programme.

Ensuring that those unlucky enough to receive a cancer diagnosis receive the best support possible is also key, and it is important to highlight that “the best support possible” doesn’t necessarily mean that all treatment is immediately funded privately.

While most companies are still taking a traditional “full cover” approach to cancer funding[4], insurance providers are offering more blended private & NHS options than ever, with options for mandating use of the NHS when available, or cash benefits for those members who voluntarily elect to take treatment under the NHS.

Cash benefits are very simple to administer, and are usually included within standard private medical insurance benefit schedules.  These cash benefits can be invaluable to those diagnosed with cancer, given the inherent costs of being unwell.  Recent research has suggested that having cancer is actually more expensive than having a child, with most patients c.£570 worse off each month, from a combination of being too ill to work, and additional outgoings such as paying for transport to and from hospital, etc[5].

While cash alternatives are perhaps the obvious solution, there are many other options which may be of more value to employees than privately funding treatment where NHS provision is readily available.  Additional services such support with childcare, facilitation of independent financial advice, and provision of cancer concierge services (among many other options) can be offered in lieu of full private cancer cover.

Reminding employees of other benefits which may also already be in place can also be very helpful (for example your Employee Assistance Programmes may offer face to face counselling for either the employee on their own, or as part of a family counselling session).  A wealth of free of charge services can be signposted by employers, helping the employee to cut through the bewildering amount of information available to them.

[1] Cancer Research UK Study, published March 2018
[2] Cancer Research UK Study, published March 2018
[3] British Journal of Cancer volume 118, pages1130–1141 (2018)
[4] Buck independent insurer research, November 2018
[5] Macmillan Cancer Support research, March 2018