As cancer care becomes more effective, patients are living longer, better lives. Paying for cancer care, however, remains a problem, but payers and employers can help by advocating for treatments that provide the best value and creating plans that support the wide-ranging needs of cancer patients and their families.
Cancer deaths have been dropping since the 1990s, according to a report from the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, yet costs continue to rise. More than $147 billion was spent on cancer care alone in 2017, according to the report, spurring debate about how best to manage these rising costs. Michael Thompson, president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, says his organization has developed an assessment of how health plans are currently managing cancer for their members. The Achieving Value in Cancer Care report highlights gaps in treatment, and provides recommendations for purchasers, health, plans, and providers.
“It has become kind of our roadmap for how to help explain to employers how they should be engaging with their health plans,” Thompson says.
In the past, talking about intervening on cancer care was a no-fly zone, he says. It was a hands-off issue for employers, in part because they didn’t want to stand in the way of employees and families receiving life-saving treatments. Now, with so many good, effective options for cancer care, it’s a different story.
“This has evolved in a way that is very healthy and good. Some of it relates to the fact that our ability to treat cancer has never been better,” Thompson says. “And a lot that relates to the progress in the industry on how to treat cancer. But the second is cost.”
The cost of cancer care has increased exponentially, he says, and employers are beginning to discuss quality measures as a way to control costs. Is the diagnosis right? Are tests being done correctly?
“Misdiagnosis is not a rare thing in cancer, and we do want to support getting to the right provider,” Thompson says. “We want to make sure we do right by families and employees and get the care they need. At the same time, we don’t want to waste money on that process.”