Workplace Initiative to Prevent Cancer Cuts Healthcare Costs

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Big business. Big Pharma. Those words don’t create a particularly happy picture in your mind, do they? So often we think, “Big business. Out to get the little guy. A bunch of fat cats.” Or “Big Pharma. Only in it for the profits. Wringing every last penny out of their desperate customers.”

    But quietly, without any apparent tooting of their own horns, a handful of American businesses are making a legitimate effort to prevent cancer in their workplaces. And next time you think of “big bad business,” consider these guys instead.

    In 2001, former President George H.W. Bush called on American CEOs to do something "bold and venturesome" to defeat cancer. Robert Ingram of GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s second largest pharmaceutical company, founded the CEO Roundtable on Cancer in response to Bush’s challenge. Ingram, also president of the American Cancer Society Foundation, created a non-profit corporation whose members are all corporate leaders of major American companies.

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    The corporation’s mission, as it appears on their Web site, “is to make continual progress toward the elimination of cancer as a personal disease and public health problem. Members of the CEO Roundtable collaboratively work to develop and implement initiatives that reduce the risk of cancer, enable early diagnosis, facilitate better access to best-available treatments, and hasten the discovery of novel and more effective diagnostic tools and anti-cancer therapies.”

    Bottom line? This group now includes 29 member companies, ranging from major pharmaceuticals (Novartis) to non-profits (the American Cancer Society) to educational institutions (Duke University Health System) to just plain big American businesses (Johnson & Johnson, whose CEO, William Weldon, is currently chairman of the Roundtable). And, well… they mean business. Two years ago the Roundtable established a CEO Gold Standard plan, a series of cancer-related priorities that encourage cutting-edge prevention efforts, early diagnosis, and quality treatment, including participation in clinical trials. And 14 member companies have “gone Gold.”

    Which means? These companies implement a specific set of workplace standards, focusing on five areas:
    •Tobacco use: Workplaces are tobacco-free. Employees wishing to quit using tobacco receive no-cost counseling and medication.
    •Diet and nutrition: Company culture supports healthy food choices. Employees are provided access to nutrition/weight control programs.
    •Physical activity: Company culture promotes physical activity, and eliminates barriers to an active lifestyle.
    •Screening and early detection: The company’s health benefit plan provides, free of charge, all cancer-screening provisions that adhere to the American Cancer Society (ACS) Guidelines or the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) Guidelines. 
    •Access to quality treatment and clinical trials: Employees are educated about cancer clinical trials, and are able to participate in those trials at no cost. In addition, employees are guaranteed access to cancer care at Commission on Cancer-approved facilities and/or NCI-approved cancer centers. You have cancer? You WILL receive top-notch care.


  • And guess what? Already, businesses that have adopted the Gold Standard have seen a reduction in their health-care costs, estimated at $2.35 to $3.75 per employee per month. And for companies like Johnson & Johnson, with 122,000 workers, that’s a significant savings.

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    At least half of all cancer deaths are preventable. Early detection saves lives. What a delight to learn that Big Business, at least some of it, is lending us a Big Hand by putting these words into action in the workplace.

Published On: April 29, 2008