Judy Berger on What Southwest Airlines Is Doing in Oncology

Southwest Airlines has set up a split fill program, pharmacy benefit manager, health advocacy program, and a cancer resource guide for employees, said Judy Berger, senior manager, benefits planning, Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines has set up a split fill program, pharmacy benefit manager, health advocacy program, and a cancer resource guide for employees, said Judy Berger, senior manager, benefits planning, Southwest Airlines.

Transcript (slightly modified)

What is Southwest Airlines doing in the area of oncology?

We’ve been looking at our data, and we see that oncology is one of the big ticket items. We are self-insured, and we have over 57,000 employees. So, we’ve been looking at the data and we see that we had an area with people being on medications for the first time, and they’d be on the medication for a month, yet they’d only take the pill for maybe 3 days and then they reacted to it. So we put in a split fill program; it’s a benefit to the employee and to the company because they get a 15-day supply, and if it doesn’t work, the employee and the company are only paying for 15 days. If it does work, they get the other 15 days and continue to go on. That’s one area.

We’re also working with our pharmacy benefit manager. They put in a specialty guideline management program which is really looking at the oncology drugs and making sure that the correct drugs are being taken for the correct cancer. There is a prior authorization that’s associated with the program as well.

We also have a new program, called the health advocacy program, and we really started it with our call center employees. We have call center employees, ramp employees, flight attendants, pilots, etc. But, the call enter employees are really sedentary, and they have different issues than other employees. They have diabetes, and they have cancer. So, we’re implementing programs just in those locations to actually test it out. For instance, we found that we have a high prevalence of colon cancer in our Phoenix population, so we started to try out the do it at home colonoscopy kit, and we’re still testing that to see if that works.

The other thing is that we’ve developed a cancer resource guide for employees. You’re just diagnosed with breast cancer, and you don’t know where to go, you don’t know who to turn to, we do have a nurse program where they can turn to them, but there are definitely other resources including their employee assistance program. So, we put that all down on paper so they can read that when they want to read it. In the back of it are carrier-provided questions that an employee might ask when they’re diagnosed with something, such as: what does stage 4 mean? should I get a second opinion? All of those kind of questions, so it can get the employee started on where they should begin.

How are your employees reacting to these programs and benefits?

We’re in the initial stages. So, for instance the cancer resource guide; we sent it out to people who have cancer and who are passed the process of the beginning and we’ve heard comments like, “Gee, I wish I had this in the beginning.” Because then they might have figured out a different doctor to go to, or done a different treatment, or asked different questions. The split fill program, we’re in the first 6 months, so we’re about to evaluate that. We don’t expect a lot of financial gain on that one, but from an employee perspective, they are paying less. So we have heard a few comments on that one. The pharmacy management program, they don’t even know that it’s happening, because it happens in the background. Our cancer resource guide, we hope to see more and more use of it, since it’s just being published now.