A severe illness policy can be used to cover the cost of childcare, for example, in the event you are seriously ill. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL
A severe illness policy can be used to cover the cost of childcare, for example, in the event you are seriously ill. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL

Claims statistics released recently by three large life assurance companies are enough to make anyone think twice about not ensuring that they have adequate cover against severe illnesses, particularly cancer.

Medical advances and a focus on healthy living have extended our lives, and with increased longevity comes increased risk of contracting a severe illness and surviving it, and even the possibility of contracting another severe illness.

Cancer is one of the top causes of severe illness claims and is constantly rising, according to Karin Muller, CEO of Sanlam Individual Life.

"In 2010 cancer made up 36% of all severe illness claims. In 2017 it was the cause of 59% of admitted claims at Sanlam," she says.

Cancer was also the main reason for severe illness claims at Momentum and Liberty last year, making up 38% and 24% of all these claims respectively for the two assurers.

Soberingly, it is not only older people who are subject to severe illnesses or conditions.

Henk Meintjes, the head of risk product development at Liberty, says cancer affects all age and social groups, making up 16% of all claims for those in their 20s and 30s, 21% for young parents, 26% for established providers and 25% for empty-nesters. The top three cancers were breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men and colon cancer in both genders, he says.

Lifestyle choices

According to Momentum's head of marketing for life insurance, George Kolbe, the incidence of serious illness in children spikes in the first few years of life and drops significantly after that, before it increases again in adulthood.

Leukaemia remains the most prevalent cancer among children in South Africa.

Momentum's claim statistics for 2017 show that 54% of child critical illness pay-outs were for cancer, followed by 34% for illnesses related to the nervous system, Kolbe says.

Momentum paid out 25 critical illness claims for children last year. The youngest child to have a claim lodged on their behalf was a five-month-old baby.

Dr Thabani Nkwanyana, Liberty's medical officer, says severe illness due to genetic disorders is more common in the early ages and illnesses resulting from lifestyle tend to occur from age 30.

Stress and inactivity linked to busy modern lives are leading to a significant increase in severe illnesses in younger people, he says.

While there is nothing you can do about conditions you inherit, you can help avoid severe illnesses with the usual good lifestyle choices - don't smoke, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and eat healthy, Nkwanyana says.

Both men and women are at risk of severe illnesses, with Sanlam reporting that 45% of all severe illness claims were for women and 55% for men.

Most of the severe illness claims admitted for men were for cancer, at 43% - of which 12% was for prostrate cancer.

In the case of women, most of the severe illness claims admitted were for cancer, at 77%, of which 31% was for breast cancer and 5% for melanoma, Muller says.

Diabetes

Liberty's breakdown of claims by gender shows that cancer accounted for 20% of claims for men and 32% for women.

According to Nkwanyana, chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure can also progress to severe illnesses as they begin to affect the organs.

For instance, poorly managed asthma can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Liberty pays out for diabetes once you require insulin injections, and may pay a further claim if diabetes leads to poor vision.

Long-term problems with high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol also manifest as severe cardiac and cardiovascular illnesses.

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