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By focusing on cancer as part of a wider chronic disease management strategy, employers can support employee health while reducing benefits costs, said Chris Bonnett, founder and principal at H3 Consulting, during a webinar hosted by the Canadian Pension and Benefits Institute.

While long-term disability plans pay out, on average, $3,500 per month, cancer patients spend a monthly average of $2,500 solely on cancer-related expenses, he noted. “That’s a lot of money to come up with . . . at a point in time where you may not be working. . . . In fact, half of Canadian cancer patients missed at least a year of work and four in 10 had to make significant changes to their work or school schedules.”

Read: What does return to work look like for cancer patients?

The integration of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in workplace cancer strategies can also help support employees, said Bonnett, noting a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t feasible amid an increasingly diverse workforce. He noted factors such as overall health, education and income level can impact an employee’s access to cancer support services and treatment. “With a quarter of our population born outside of Canada, we have more to consider today than in the past.”

Cancer is also increasingly impacting drug plan costs, he said, noting rare diseases account for 12 per cent of total drug spend, but three-quarters of that spend is for rare cancers.

Also speaking during the webinar, Allan Smofsky, principal strategist at Smofsky Strategic Planning, said for the foreseeable future, benefits plan sponsors will be contending with a surge of new cancer claims following a delay in diagnoses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, he said the mental-health impact of cancer can put further strain on a benefits plan, noting both physical and mental comorbidities must be addressed in any workplace cancer strategy. “[Employers need to] think about loneliness, isolation [and the] loss of sense of self-worth associated with something like cancer, which often … impacts people’s ability to work.”

Read: Flexible return-to-work policies crucial for cancer survivors