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Cancer benefits in 2024: What HR needs to know to stay ahead of the curve



There’s no denying the importance of workplace well-being, especially in a post-pandemic world. It’s one of HR’s top priorities for 2024, according to a recent Virgin Pulse survey. And focusing on employee health is probably a good idea, since healthcare costs are expected to rise 5.4% in 2024.

One piece of the well-being puzzle that can be a tough – but necessary – focus is cancer benefits and care. In an era where employers are pinching pennies to save on costs, cancer benefits are a sought-after perk for employees, and they make a tangible difference for employees who are touched by cancer in some way. 

As we look to 2024, how can employers better support employees who are impacted by cancer? Here’s what’s to come for cancer benefits in 2024 – and how to prepare for it.

The current state of cancer in the workplace

In 2023, roughly 2 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute, and an estimated half of those new cases will be breast cancer. 

Other common types of cancer in 2023 include: 

  • Prostate: 288,300 (15%)
  • Lung and bronchus: 238,340 (12%), and 
  • Colon and rectum: 153,020 (8%).

Since the pandemic, there has also been a dramatic rise in cancer among people under 50, as well as an increase in late-stage cancer diagnoses. These are most likely related to many delaying routine preventive care during the pandemic, such as mammograms and colonoscopies. 

In fact, 44% of employers anticipate seeing an increase in late-stage cancer diagnoses in the future, and 13% say they have already seen an increase, according to a survey from The Business Group on Health (TBGH). 

On top of new cases, there are more than 18 million cancer survivors in the U.S. as of January 1, 2022, according to the American Cancer Society – and that number is expected to increase to 22.5 million by 2032. 

These increases have had a real impact on employers – according to TBGH, cancer has become a top driver of healthcare costs, even though it affects a relatively small percentage of the population. 

As cancer becomes more prevalent – and survivorship increases – the importance of talking about and supporting cancer in the workplace and providing cancer benefits also goes up.

To support employees who have been touched by cancer, it’s important to evaluate your current benefit offerings and how certain workplace policies may impact those dealing with cancer. 

Emerging cancer benefits trends in 2024

Employers are expected to go “back to basics” in 2024, according to TBGH, to prioritize prevention and primary care. “These are not new strategies for large employers, but signal the urgency felt by companies to avoid deferred care and the associated late-stage conditions and costs,” the organization said.

In addition to healthcare trends, employers will also need to focus on support for employees. “There are two trends that I think are making a big difference for those touched by cancer,” says Lesli Marasco, vice president, Global Benefits and Well-Being at AbbVie.

“First is overall workplace flexibility and the increase in work from home and hybrid work. When it comes to working with cancer – personally or as a caregiver – we heard directly from employees that having flexibility in both when and where they work is one of the most helpful ways employees found support,” says Marasco. “This flexibility allows employees to do things like more easily get to doctor appointments, tend to a loved one and continue to work without taking a leave of absence if that is their preference.”

“The second trend we are seeing is more support for caregivers,” says Marasco. “Caregiving can be very stressful, especially if trying to do this while working full-time. … We have gotten very good utilization and feedback on the support and flexibility this provides employees – particularly employees whose job function requires working onsite.” 

In addition, technological advancements in 2023 may impact cancer benefits and support in the upcoming year. For example, the National Cancer Institute is exploring AI to screen and treat certain types of cancer.

Although these advancements won’t be widely available yet, it signifies a shift toward evolving treatment and more targeted approaches to cancer. AI can also potentially assist in early detection and prevention, which will be a main employer focus in 2024.

Action steps

It’s clear that support is needed for those affected by cancer. Not doing so can result not only in decreased employee satisfaction, but decreased productivity and morale – and will eventually lead to turnover.

And, in some scenarios, not providing accommodations for cancer can also land you in hot water with the Department of Labor. In fact, the EEOC received 729 cancer discrimination claims in 2022.

It can be hard to even know where to start when it comes to providing top-notch cancer benefits and support.

“When evaluating what is needed, think about those touched by a cancer diagnosis as (1) your employees, (2) their managers, and (3) those that are caregivers of someone with cancer. Each of these groups needs different kinds of support,” says Marasco.

Here are some actionable ways to support employees touched by cancer and in 2024. 

Speak up. Being open about supporting those touched by cancer can make employees more likely to disclose their struggles and find the right resources needed. This is imperative, as 50% of cancer patients are afraid to tell their employer about their diagnosis, according to a Cancer@Work study. 

“AbbVie is a founding member of the Working with Cancer campaign, which aims to raise awareness and support for people dealing with cancer in the workplace – whether they have a cancer diagnosis or are a manager of or caregiver to someone with cancer,” says Marasco. “This is a good step to demonstrate support to your employees.” 

Listen with intention. Everyone’s cancer journey is different, and you won’t know what types of cancer benefits your employees need unless you ask them. This may include employee listening, monitoring workforce trends or even partnering with outside vendors that understand best practices. 

“Through good times and challenging times, it is about allowing employees to be their best selves at work and at home – and making it as easy as possible for them to understand and utilize their benefits,” says Marasco. “Earlier this year, we held focus groups with employees touched by cancer and people leaders to identify priority needs.” 

Through surveying, AbbVie was able to identify and address specific workforce needs, including:

  • Workplace flexibility
  • Paid and unpaid leave for both patients and caregivers
  • Health plan options with dedicated care management teams
  • A cancer support guide highlighting applicable benefits
  • Mental and financial health support, and
  • Support specifically for managers in how to talk to and support their employees.

Keep up with evolving trends. “Because the cancer support ecosystem is evolving quickly, it is important to continue to understand what is available from your existing health plans and partners and ensure employees know what is available at their time of need,” says Marasco.

This is especially true in an era where technology like AI is rapidly evolving, resulting in technological advancements that may change the cancer benefits landscape in the coming years. 

Keeping an eye on trends should be top of mind, particularly in the cancer benefits space, to ensure that those affected by cancer can have all the support they need, both in and outside of work. “Looking ahead, we are enhancing current and adding new benefits to support our employees and their family members throughout the entire cancer journey, from prevention to diagnosis and treatment to recovery,” says Marasco.

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