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5 Takeaways from My Day at the White House Cancer Moonshot Roundtable on Workforce-Enabled Cancer Screenings

Othman Laraki

Every workforce is affected by cancer. For employers, catching cancer early is the key to lessening the burden cancer poses on their employees and the company’s bottom line.

I recently attended a White House Roundtable on this topic hosted by the Biden Cancer Moonshot team to discuss strategies on improving access to workforce-enabled cancer screenings. Also invited were employers who represent more than 6.5 million Americans. These leaders showcased a deep and active commitment and active to improving outcomes and decreasing overall cancer-related costs.

President Biden recently declared April as National Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Month. In doing so, the White House has called attention to the importance of timing and early diagnosis. Such a focus on early detection from the White House points to a key stakeholder that hasn’t been sufficiently enlisted in the fight against cancer: employers.

1. Employers are deeply motivated to ensure access to screenings as a lever to change cancer trajectories. 

Employers have dual goals: one part human/social, the other part financial.

Many of the leading American employers deeply resonate with the impact that cancer screenings offer for the health and wellbeing of their workforces. Additionally, employers recognize access to screenings is a key lever in changing trajectories of cancer costs. Some cancers can have an increased survival rate of 5x when caught in early stages vs. late stages. In those instances, cancer costs can drop up to 30% for employers.

2. Awareness and engagement are key to driving change in workforces.

One of the barriers employers focus on most is awareness and engagement.  Employers recognize that merely having a workplace health benefit is not enough to drive important outcomes.

Two strategies that many employers highlighted were simple / lightweight onsite presences, especially for industrial workforces, and engagement with Employee Resource Groups. Both strategies help to meet people where they are. (We’ve seen both effective at Color, too).

Color has served over 7 million patients, from self-insured employers and plans, to leading cancer research centers, to some of the largest government healthcare programs from the NIH and the CDC. Throughout our experience, we’ve also learned how to greatly improve awareness and engagement within populations.

Early data from our program with the American Cancer Society is showing significant uptake in improving cancer screening compliance. With our program, we’ve seen adherence rates for cancer screenings rise 2-3x in just eight weeks. Additionally, in one pilot study of our program, 84% of participants said they became more familiar with timing and frequency of recommended cancer screening.

3. Focus on late-stage treatment is moving toward early-stage detection.

While many employers had previously invested in supporting patients once they have been diagnosed with cancer, fewer had invested in the early stage detection and care. Ensuring that employees have access to cancer screenings that are efficiently managed provides everyone the best opportunity to move cancers to earlier stages.

Employers are recognizing how critical this transition is to improving health outcomes and decreasing cancer-related costs. Cancer treatment accounts for 12% of total medical costs for employers in the United States and is the top driver of employer healthcare spending.  

4. Improving everyday logistics has a significant impact on outcomes.

Ensuring that a cancer patient’s logistical journey is connected, transparent, and efficient is critical to improving health outcomes. It can affect whether people even receive follow-up treatment. (A 2023 study found that 41% of people who had a positive colon cancer screening test did not receive follow-up testing).

Even with the best intentions, screening often gets thwarted by logistical abrasions. Some of the most common barriers are paying out-of-pocket fees, finding transportation, getting  time off from work, scheduling, and getting a referral. All of these factors are solvable through patient-focused systems that emphasize the importance of care management.

5. Employers want a clearer, measurable understanding of screening rates than they currently receive from their payers. 

Let me put this bluntly: No one gets a clear picture of their actual screening rates from their payers. Most employers we have worked with at Color had previously relied on claims to learn about screening rates. This is inconsistent and leads to great misunderstandings. To further complicate the problem, screening rates do not measure the completeness of a screening, just completion of the initial test.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Employers are recognizing the importance of data-led decision-making (and therefore getting the data in the first place).

All in all, I’m very grateful to the Cancer Moonshot team for leading this effort and up-leveling the role of employers. Whatever one thinks about the U.S. healthcare system, most people would agree that American enterprise plays a central role in the financial and social fabric of this country. Catalyzing a framework that gets us all out from under the cancer burden is essential for the health and wellbeing of the entire country.