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Can better cancer care lower company's health costs?

Reuters  |  NEW YORK 

By Beth Pinsker

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When companies try to tackle rising costs, shifting more of the burden to employees is increasingly the strategy of choice.

But Activision Blizzard, an entertainment company that employs more than 6,000 people in the United States, has been spending less on than projected for the last few years, in large part because it is offering better options for care.

"I'm a survivor myself. I know what it's like when you get a diagnosis," said human resources head Milt Ezzard, who joined the Santa Monica, California-based company six years ago. "You go into a black hole and just get through it."

is one of the most expensive conditions to treat, driving about 20 percent of a company's spend, said Hugh Ma, and Chief Executive Officer of Robin Care, which guides workers through cancer illnesses.

Rather than focus on the big picture of cutting costs, some companies are designing benefits that specifically target certain conditions.

Often the first step is for a company to contract a third-party patient like or Edison Health that specializes in cancer cases. This is because human resources departments cannot delve into the particulars of an employee's health issues, due to privacy rules.

The benefit of these subcontractors is that they can really be there and hold your hand, said Dave Chase, of Health Rosetta, which promotes

"All they deal with is cancer. Having somebody available on your side is good," Chase said.

Tom Emerick, of Edison Healthcare, works with about 5,000 client companies and gets personally involved in cancer cases.

Emerick's first priority is to make sure that the cancer gets diagnosed properly. About 30 percent of the cases he handles are misdiagnosed originally, he says. Many workers are sent for they do not need or expensive treatments that will not help them, he added.

Edison works to get patients to the right place for treatment based on the type of cancer they have.

A top echelon of hospitals are designated as Centers of Excellence, and companies can contract for services with them directly or through their provider. Centers of Excellence also help workers with

Currently, 40 percent of large companies use Centers of Excellence for cancer care, up 10 percent over the past two years, according to the on Health (NGBH), a group for

About 24 percent more have said they plan to start offering this benefit by 2021.

In addition to helping with specialized care, companies are easing the cancer burden in other ways.

Some companies, like Delta Air Lines, will also cover up to $10,000 for the patient and accompanying family to go to a special facility.

"That goes a long way," said Vickie Strickland, for Delta, which is based in Atlanta,

Only a few of the few thousand employees dealing with cancer hit the $10,000 limit each year, from a workforce of 150,000.

"It's a nice message to send to the employee: They care enough about you to send you to the to make sure you get the best treatment. With the misdiagnosis rate, it easily pays for itself," said Health Rosetta's Chase.

centers can do advanced genetic testing on patients to identify those mostly likely to benefit from particular treatments, avoiding extremely costly new regimens for those unlikely to be helped by them.

"I can't imagine what our costs would be if we weren't doing all of this," said Delta's Strickland.

Nearly 30 percent of large companies are also offering incentives for employees with cancer to use the case management companies or an on-call to help manage their condition, which can involve dealing with treatment side effects and future care choices.

Employers deposit money into the health savings account or offer some other type of monetary reward, according to NGBH.

Sometimes getting to the right place is just the start. At Robin Care, helped an employee deal with her diagnosis. All the experts concluded that the woman needed her stomach removed, and fast, but she balked.

Ma assessed the situation. He found another elderly Vietnamese woman who had had the same to reassure the patient that the treatment was safe.

"We were visiting her in the recovery room four days later," Ma said. His conclusion: "When you take the approach to support the human being, you'll have better outcome and lower costs."

(Editing by and Bill Berkrot)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, December 03 2018. 17:42 IST