As you will recall, when we last spoke, I was about to speak at the Benefits Canada 2016 Employers Cancer Care Summit, a gathering of employers learning about cancer care. It was a wonderful event. As I expected, I didn’t speak much, being on a panel of oncologists, but I did learn some new things I would like to share.
First, from the panel of physicians speaking about the new drug advancements, including Dr. Peter Anglin, medical director at CAREpath; Dr. John Bell, scientific director at BioCanRx; Dr. Christine Brezden-Masley, head of the division of hematology/oncology at St. Michael’s Hospital; Dr. Mark Vincent, medical oncologist with the London regional cancer centre in the department of oncology at Western University; and Joan Weir, director of health and dental policy at the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, I learned:
- The new treatment is immune-oncology. This is a treatment that turns the patient’s own immune system on to attack the cancer cells. As healthy cells are not impacted, the idea is that there will be fewer debilitating side effects. This treatment is still in development and there is a long way to go before it is widely used.
- There are many ways to treat some cancers. Dr. Mark Vincent spoke of a web tool he has created that will allow patients/doctors to review the treatment options for lung cancer to meet their own person goals, such as reducing toxicity or maximizing efficacy or minimizing cost. As he explained to me, each person has his or her own concern, for example, maybe it is important not to lose your hair. The tool has dozens of various treatment protocols to reflect the patient’s goals while ideally achieving the same end, a cure.
- Cancer treatment has a higher success rate for people who are otherwise fit. The patients selected for clinical trials may have cancer, but ideally they have minimal secondary health risks. More health risks can result in more complications from treatment. This speaks to the value of the benefit plan and wellness programs in maintaining a level of health to allow every opportunity for recovery.
- The paperwork can be overwhelming. Doctors spend a lot of time and energy advocating to insurance companies, drug companies and provincial drug plans on behalf of their patients to ensure the cost of care is affordable. Doctors do not appreciate the prior authorization process. They are also not big fans of “watch and wait” approaches to formulary additions, indicating that delays cause additional complications
- Sometimes the doctors are just guessing. They don’t always know which treatment will be covered by whom or what the most optimal treatment will be for each patient. These individuals were all compassionate and caring. They are focused on the recovery of patients facing life threatening illnesses and they want to do their very best to give everyone a fighting chance.
My take-away from the session? If you are diagnosed with cancer, you want one of these doctors on your team. In an ideal world you would also have a service, like CAREpath, who will help translate everything into English and find funding for the best treatment. You also want to keep yourself healthy through proper maintenance – keep your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar all in check so you have your best fighting chance. And, critical illness insurance could be helpful to help mitigate out-of-pocket expenses and cover costs while getting all the funding aligned.
Stay tuned for our next installment when I will tell you what I learned about how employees undergoing cancer treatment feel about their benefit plans. Until then, be well.