Many employers want to do everything they can to support employees dealing with cancer. But what are some of the most effective ways of offering support when it comes to employees returning to work?

“We find that a lot of people that are diagnosed with cancer, they are very motivated to return to work,” said Irene Keller, director of product development for group benefits at Sun Life Financial, during a session at the Employers Cancer Care Summit on Feb. 27.

Read: The employer’s role in being ‘a very strong motivator’ in cancer patients’ return to work

“And part of that is because of a return to normalcy. They want to have that focus. They want to be able to continue with the life that they have. They want to be connected to the workforce because that is their social support network. This, of course, also benefits the employer because they have that person back to work being productive as well.”

Keller noted managers play a key role, as they generally have a closer relationship with the employee than the human resources professional or a disability case manager. However, she said that while early communication from managers is crucial, they can feel uncomfortable, afraid of harassing the employee and unsure of what to say. As a result, she said training managers on how to handle those cases is important.

Keller also referred to the importance of accommodating returning employees.

“This highly influences their success. For an employer to provide accommodation . . . that means flexing hours, modified duties and also providing some other support, such as paid leave, when they need to go and continue with cancer treatments or see their doctors,” she said.

Keller added that since 25 per cent of employees with cancer are likely to suffer from mental-health issues, it’s also important to provide resources and support in that area.

Read: A look at best practices for managing cancer in the workplace

Also presenting with Keller was Anjila Arora, director of pharmaceutical benefits at Sun Life, who noted that while new cancer medicines are improving survival rates, they often come with a high cost.

“This means that employees with cancer are relying even more on their group benefits plan to cover what could be a life-saving treatment. And new oral drugs to treat cancer are a prime example. The ability to take cancer drugs at home offers obvious benefits to patients, but depending on the province, this can also shift the coverage from those from the public sector to the private plans, further increasing the cost pressures on plan sponsors,” she said.

With that in mind, she said that for plan sponsors that cover high-cost drugs, measures to ensure drug plan sustainability, such as mandatory generic substitution, prior authorization and tiered formularies, are very important.

Read more coverage of the 2018 Employers Cancer Care Summit here

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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