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Cancer eclipses MSK disorders as employers’ top healthcare cost 

By Erin Hirshorn, senior director, population health RN, BSN, CCM, Accolade  | April 07, 2023 | 4 min read

For years, the top driver of employer medical expenses was musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions. More than 126 million Americans manage MSK disorders at an annual cost of about $213 billion. [1] While MSK disorders continue to be a high cost category, employers are now seeing the impact of delayed preventative screenings and delayed care during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic with cancer emerging as the top healthcare cost driver [2]. In just the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, people missed 10 million cancer screenings. [3] That delay in care continued for several years and has had a dramatic impact on health and costs.   

Missed preventive screenings can lead to advanced stage diagnoses

Early tests and preventive screenings play a vital role in early disease detection. Unfortunately, research shows that many adults — including one-third of those under the age of 50 — don't have a primary care physician to quarterback their routine preventative care. [4] During the pandemic, preventive care took another hit. Limited access to elective and preventive care facilities — along with people’s fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus — led to a downturn in the number of preventive screenings. According to experts from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), such delayed care could have serious negative impacts on cancer outcomes in the future. [2]   

A report from the AACR included a warning from researchers that delayed care could mean heightened risks. [5] In the report, experts suggested that the considerable number of missed cancer screenings during the pandemic may eventually result in an increased number of advanced-stage cancer diagnoses, as well as a rise in cancer-related mortality. [2]  

Has that concern already become a reality? Possibly. It may be too early to say, but in the months between March and December 2020, there was an 11% increase in diagnoses of inoperable or metastatic cancer compared to the same period in 2019. [6]

Statistics on delayed cancer care and potential outcomes are sobering

The pandemic also led to delays in care for patients that were diagnosed with cancer. The University of Chicago Medicine suggested that if the trends for delayed care continue, the United States can expect to see cancer mortality elevate by nearly 10,000 people over the next 10 years alone. [7] This is because late-stage cancer can be harder to treat and carry a worse outcome. For example, an eight-week delay in breast cancer surgery can increase the risk of death by 17%, while a 12-week delay can increase the risk by 26%. [8]  

How employers can help employees coordinate and navigate care

Accolade recently hosted a webinar to discuss the rise in cancer cases and costs to provide guidance to employers managing this emerging health issue. Delayed care and cancer: Why it’s HR's latest challenge features a panel of experts discussing how employers can support cancer prevention, mental health and care coordination. From preventive care — such as health engagement and regular screenings — to medical advances, including precision medicine and DNA sequencing, our free webinar covers how to overcome challenges, provide key resources and enable informed decisions. That’s why we’ve made it easy to view on-demand.  

To learn more about how improved access to primary care and expert medical opinions can help your organization, watch the webinar. Then get in touch with our team. We look forward to sharing how Accolade can help you support your people and ensure they all have access to the right care.   









Erin Hirshorn serves as senior director for Accolade’s clinical services team responsible for ensuring Accolade has the right clinical focus for its members and works across teams to achieve expected outcomes. She serves as the voice of clinical operations for her internal and external partners. 

Erin joined Accolade 10 years ago and has held various operational roles, including clinically supporting members directly and leading multiple teams, including complex case management. Prior to Accolade, Erin worked at a trauma hospital as a Registered Nurse, Progressive Care Certified Nurse, specializing in cardiac and stroke care, while also working per-diem as a Nursing Supervisor. Erin also has more than ten years of experience working in the insurance industry, recruiting, and sales. 

Erin attended Immaculata University, graduating summa cum laude with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

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