Comment & Analysis

Providing employee health insurance that supports people living with cancer

By Paul Landau, founder and CEO of Careology

Insurance products are broadly designed to provide financial assistance when something goes wrong. However many insurers are now recognising that consumer needs go beyond money-matters. There is a clear opportunity, especially when it comes to health and wellbeing, to provide proactive supporting services to members. The benefits of this can be especially wide reaching within group insurance products for employers and employees.

In February of this year, BUPA partnered with Macmillan to provide one-on-one counselling to people with cancer who are in need of emotional and wellbeing support. According to Cancer Research UK, one in every two people in the working population will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime. A sombre and staggering statistic. For those living with cancer and dealing with everything that goes along with the diagnosis, mental health support offers an extra dimension of value during difficult times.

When it comes to emotional support, digital technology can play a crucial role for insurers by improving the overall member experience and reducing unexpected costs associated with cancer claims. Empowering patients and helping them to feel safe and connected to their wider care network, assisting with self-management of treatment and allowing them to keep track of their symptoms, mood and medication could improve their health outcomes.

One of the UK’s leading providers of long-term support for people facing serious illnesses is RedArc, an organisation which recognises the potential of blending their services with innovative technology companies’ to provide holistic wellbeing support for people living with a critical and complex illness like cancer.

RedArc’s registered nurses provide practical and emotional phone support as well as a wide range of external services such as counselling and return to work coaching for their patients, finding significant demand with those who are returning to work after treatment. A commonly expressed issue is the fear of discussing mental health with employers, and the current lack of support and understanding as a result.

Breaking down stigma

According to 2018 research by AXA PPP Healthcare, one in five managers felt uncomfortable speaking with their employees about any illness. A similar number have never spoken to a member of their team who has a cancer diagnosis about their illness. With the number of people living with a cancer diagnosis set to hit 4 million by 2030, this is a significant issue that must be addressed.

The inclusion of holistic supporting services within employees’ health insurance would help to promote an open dialogue around cancer and emotional wellbeing in the workplace, which may help prevent employees from hiding their struggles. Feeling unsupported can result in employees feeling any number of negative effects, such as presenteeism, reduced productivity, and costly insurance claims for emergency treatment.

Partnerships such as that between Macmillan and Bupa are a step in the right direction when it comes to considering mental health and cancer in the workplace, but there’s much more work to be done.

As Christine Husbands, Managing Director at RedArc, comments, ‘Ill-health is a worrying and often very complicated time, so having access to a professional with expert knowledge can make a huge difference. For some people, dealing with cancer is a very personal issue and they may choose to keep their journey to themselves. Yet, dealing with the disease itself is emotionally draining. At RedArc, we believe that emotional support isn’t just a ‘nice-to-have’ but a necessary and valuable part of treatment for people living with serious illness, like cancer.’

By investing in digital care and human emotional support, employers and businesses could see a healthy return on investment through improved employee wellbeing and job satisfaction during and beyond treatment. Increasing morale improves teamwork and collaboration, as well as increasing productivity. Offering the appropriate services to those with severe illness will not only promote trust and loyalty internally, which affects employee retention, it will also improve the reputation of a business externally.

Yet, it must be recognised that it is in the interest of all parties to guarantee that these services are widely accessible in the workplace. In the long run, these partnerships will also shrink costs for insurers by reducing unexpected hospital admissions, inpatient stays and drug wastage. Access to emotional support services, such as counselling, can help employees recognise and manage when they need support earlier.

Early detection, better outcome

The events of the last year have put a strain on the mental health of many, let alone those dealing with a long-term illness like cancer. Although it will be a long road back for health services across the board, Matt Hancock’s recent speech put an emphasis on the importance of a more connected health service, built on the intelligent use of data to identify early warning signs.

As with cancer, the sooner potential issues around wellbeing can be identified, the more straightforward the path towards help will be. These can be caught early with a set of data points, or even a simple conversation. This is one of the key reasons behind RedArc’s partnership with our digital cancer care platform, to equip their nurses with the digital tools to provide personalised and proactive emotional support to each person.

The number of people in the UK who are living with cancer and in the workplace is set to climb. Whilst there is still a long way to go, it’s a significant sign of progress that the first steps towards a holistic approach to health in the workplace are being taken by insurance providers.

Paul Landau is founder and CEO of Careology, the leading digital cancer care platform which recently partnered with RedArc

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