Employees with cancer – you can help

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For cancer sufferers, support from their employer can provide peace of mind, treatment support and a return to relative normalcy. Cancer effects different people in different ways, and different diagnoses will warrant different kinds of support, but it’s important to have guidelines in place on how to support an employee with cancer while remaining flexible.
 
One of the first considerations is to understand what is available to employees through your group insurance benefits and employee assistance programs.

Does your group insurance adequately cover drug treatment costs?

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the average cost of a single course of treatment with newer cancer drugs is $65,000. In Canada, drug treatment coverage for cancer patients is complicated. Depending on what kind of drugs are administered, in which province and in what kind of facility, cancer treatment may be 75% to 100% covered or not covered at all, leaving cancer sufferers with some tough decisions to make about their treatment and adding stress to what is an already difficult time in their lives.

CAREPath’s Don Thomson said if you decide you can’t afford to increase drug coverage, you can do a number of other things, but it’s necessary to plan ahead.

“It’s important to understand the benefits you have in place,” he said. “Do you have adequate stop loss coverage? Do you have adequate disability insurance in place? Cancer is now the number-one cause of long-term physical disability, so if the employer isn’t prepared to pay the person’s wages while they’re off work going through cancer treatment, which can be months or over a year, they need to make sure they have adequate disability insurance in place to protect that.”

Consider group critical illness insurance

Critical illness insurance can provide a lump sum payment to survivors to assist with unexpected costs associated with living with a critical illness. The beneficiary can choose to allocate the money how they wish, providing financial support when it’s needed most.

Emotional support

With these provisions in place, your organization may be able to support an employee with cancer financially, but what about emotional support? What should a HR manager do when an employee tells them they have been diagnosed with cancer?

The Canadian Cancer Society says those diagnosed with cancer can go through a range of emotions and everyone reacts to a cancer diagnosis in different ways. Your employee may experience shock, worry, anxiety, guilt, loneliness, helplessness and anger. Some may use humour, focus on hobbies or work and not seem upset at all, so it’s important to remain open minded about how your employee might be feeling.

An employee facing cancer may need time off work for treatment, but leaving work is not always the best solution. Depending on the diagnosis, it may be more beneficial for the employee to remain at work providing they are physically able to and are not working in an environment that might exacerbate their health problems.

Communication is often the key to supporting an employee with cancer. “An employer or HR manager can ask them how they’re doing,” said Thomson. “Do they want to stay at work? Have they talked to someone to see if it’s ok that they stay at work? Instead of immediately telling them to go home, or taking the position that they have to stay at work, talk to them.”

It’s important to inform an employee going through cancer treatment what is available to them through their employer and make sure they understand it. Remind them of what their health insurance or EAP can provide. If coverage is limited, an organization can still refer employees to community organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society to provide assistance.

It’s never going to be a happy situation, but with comprehensive and sensitive handling by their employers, cancer patients will have their ordeal significantly lessened.

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