Did you know: Seventeen percent of full-time workers act as caregivers. The costs, gaps in care and stress associated with serious, long-term illness can negatively impact the health and productivity of your workforce. Read this blog post to learn more.


When it comes to getting better value for their healthcare dollars, employers and other healthcare purchasers may be overlooking a significant cost driver that negatively impacts the health and productivity of their workforce.

It’s the costs, gaps in care and stress associated with serious, long-term illness. In addition to the roughly 11.4 million adults and children living with serious illness, about 17% of full-time workers are also caregivers. And while a caregiving role is rewarding, it’s also been shown to reduce work productivity by more than 18%, costing U.S. businesses up to $33 billion annually. Given this, it’s surprising that palliative programs are not nearly as widespread as they should be.

Employers should give serious consideration to offering palliative care as a benefit to employees. Here are two misconceptions that can get in the way of implementing palliative care programs — and two reasons why serious illness care may be right for your organization.

First, the misconceptions:

It’s not the same as hospice care. While hospice care is a part of palliative care, they’re not synonymous. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness that is appropriate at any age and any stage of their disease and can be provided along with curative treatment. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of their medical condition(s) — whatever the diagnosis.

The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and their family. Those who would greatly benefit from access to palliative care face conditions such as diabetes with complications, metastatic cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It doesn’t affect my population. While people with a serious illness typically represent only a small proportion of the commercial population — roughly 2% to 3% — and up to 10% of retiree populations, they consume a disproportionate amount of healthcare resources. By addressing the needs of those living with serious illness, helping them avoid unnecessary, unwanted, and even potentially harmful care, employers can make a big impact on employees’ lives and the bottom line. Moreover, palliative care also greatly benefits caregivers, who can experience stress, negative impacts on their own health, and lessened productivity and presenteeism at work, even when they find their role fulfilling.

Now, why should employers offer palliative care benefits?

Quality can generate cost-savings. Palliative care’s focus on improving the quality of life of patients and their families means it leads with quality. The logic of “quality first” applies to many high-value healthcare strategies including accountable care organizations, centers of excellence (COEs) and second opinion programs. And like those other strategies, leading with quality can lead to lower costs. For instance, by providing access to high-quality care for certain services or conditions at a COE, employers hope that costly complications from low quality or inappropriate care can be avoided, just as introducing a palliative care team to a treatment plan can help patients better manage their symptoms, such as severe pain, proactively and lead to fewer trips to the emergency room.

Employers can make a big difference for patients and caregivers. Employers and other healthcare purchasers can play a powerful role in improving care for people living with serious illness by demanding certain capabilities and services from contracted health plans, other vendors and healthcare providers.

These include:

· Proactive identification of the population of patients living with a serious illness
· Training all healthcare providers in basic communication and symptom management skills
· Access to certified specialty palliative care teams across care settings
· Access to appropriately trained case managers
· Specific benefits that include home-based services and support for caregivers

To change the healthcare system, it’s important for purchasers to be on the same page with each other to ensure that providers and plans are on board with providing this type of care. After all, at the end of the day, it’s about the patient and their family. In focusing on palliative care, along with other key areas, purchasers have the power and influence to make a difference in the quality and affordability of care their employees receive.

SOURCE: Delbanco, S. (6 March 2019) “The benefit you may not be offering to employees — but should be” (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/the-benefit-employers-may-not-be-offering-to-employees?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001