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Employers can play a central role in preventing cancer, but they need the data to do it

Caroline Savello

Employer Illustration

I recently talked with the benefits leader at a Fortune 100 company about how cancer costs are only increasing for employers, and how the best way to address those costs – and improve outcomes – is to catch cancer earlier. This leader then asked their health insurers to provide up-to-date screening adherence rates for various cancers across their employee base.

The numbers, and the lack thereof, show why we need to look beyond plans for support on cancer screening… 

Less than a quarter of their employees had been screened for colon cancer, which is lower than national averages. And for lung cancer — a deadly disease that has 5x better survival rates through highly available, inexpensive, evidence-based screening — their health insurer simply doesn’t track the data. The little cancer screening data they do have isn’t risk-adjusted, so anyone with heightened cancer risk (like me) is wrongly considered “in compliance” when, in reality, they are starting routine screenings too late. 

Across over a dozen of our employer partners, evidence-based, guidelines screening rates average:

  • Only 50% adherence for mammograms
  • 43% adherence for cervical cancer screening
  • <30% adherence for colorectal cancer screening
  • 50% adherence for prostate cancer screening
  • … and not a single point of data from plans on lung cancer screening rates

At Color, we also asked our health plans to provide us with our employee screening rates, and all they could give was either their book of business averages, or basic information for only three of the cancers we asked for. 

Healthcare costs are reaching historic highs. BGH just released their 2024 Employer Health Care Strategy survey, and again, cancer is the leading condition driving cost. There are two ways to rethink our approach: (1) we need better screening data – if it doesn’t come from your health plan, find another way – and (2) employers must play a central role in getting employees screened, versus assuming PCPs or plans alone will get the job done.