Gaps in coverage persist even as almost two-thirds of employees diagnosed with cancer feel their workplace benefit plan played a significant role in helping them manage their cancer, according to Benefits Canada research.

At the 2016 Employers Cancer Care Summit, attendees heard the results of Benefits Canada’s research and looked at how well benefits plans were meeting the needs of plan members when it comes to cancer from diagnosis through to treatment and recovery.

An expert panel provided insights on the research during the conference. The panel included: Pamela Bowes, manager of the money matters and workplace programs at the Wellspring cancer support network; Dr. Mary Jane Esplen, executive director at the de Souza Institute; Michele MacDonald, drug access facilitator at the Juravinski Cancer Centre; Robin Markowitz, chief executive officer at Lymphoma Canada; and Barry Stein, president of the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada.

When looking at the research, 58 per cent of respondents felt they received the best treatment for their cancer that was covered by their health benefit plan; 25% of respondents felt they received the best treatment available for their cancer; and 17% of respondents were neutral on the topic.

“That’s unacceptable,” said Stein. “I do hear many patients who say, ‘I can’t get access to the drugs that my doctor thinks I should have.’”

When asked about differences between what the doctor prescribed and what their workplace benefit plans and the public health-care system covered, 44 per cent of respondents agreed there were gaps in coverage.

MacDonald pointed to the complexities of getting high-cost oncology medications funded as a major challenge. “The biggest thing that we do see on a day-to-day basis is the funding for the oncology medications. We’ve all heard that the cost of these medications is incredibly high,” said MacDonald.

Another challenge, she said, relates to paperwork because it can be difficult to get forms filled out in time for patients to actually start the treatment.

Markowitz also stressed the dangers of delayed treatment for aggressive cancers. “Time is of the essence,” said Markowitz.

The panellists also spoke about drug manufacturers’ patient assistance programs. According to the Benefits Canada research, 33 per cent of respondents said they relied on a drug manufacturer’s patient assistance program. Of those respondents, 92 per cent said it had a big impact on their ability to access treatments they needed.

The panellists also spoke about the role of employers in helping employees return to work. They highlighted the fact that there are options around gradual returns to work that can help employees cope with fatigue. Services such as massage therapy also play a role in helping employees feel well enough to work.

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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