Should you be financially prepared for serious illness?

For many people the global pandemic has been a harsh prompt of our own mortality and why it's important to look after your health and well-being.

Being diagnosed with a critical illness is not something anyone likes to think about, but the pandemic has served as a bitter reminder of the importance of being prepared to protect and provide for your loved ones, just in case the worst should happen, and you’re no longer able to.

In the UK, every two minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer and every 5 minutes someone is admitted to a UK hospital due to a heart attack.

Ordinarily, there are around 375,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed in the UK every year, and 3 million people living with cancer in the UK (with more than 125,000 people of working age being diagnosed each year). Plus, around 4 million men and 3.6 million women are living with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK. There are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year – a stroke at least every 5 minutes and around 1.3 million people living in the UK have survived a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA).

In a report updated in September, the charity Macmillan Cancer Support (Macmillan) stated that the number of people living with cancer in the UK was increasing by 3% every year – and the expected number of people living with the disease is expected to rise to around 4 million by 2030.

However, in 2020 insurers reported a drop (by around 15-16%) in critical illness claims, sadly not due to the fact that less people are getting seriously ill and therefore making claims, but they suspect because of the pandemic we are experiencing severe delays in detection, diagnosis, and treatment of illnesses, including cancer and heart conditions.

Covid, without doubt, has placed an additional burden on the NHS, and there was public fear of engaging with health services, the pausing of the national programme of cancer screening, and restricted access to diagnostic tests, GP appointments and referrals, which has meant that fewer people are seeking or able to receive medical screenings, get a diagnosis or treatment. In 2020, Cancer Research UK estimated that as many as 3 million people have missed out on cancer screening because of the coronavirus and according to Macmillan, around 50,000 fewer people are now missing a cancer diagnosis. Furthermore, the British Heart Foundation suggest that between 350,000-400,000 people could be waiting for a heart procedure or operation in England by March 2022. Whilst it will take time to clear the ‘backlog’, thankfully the NHS is starting to resume as it did before, however the ripple effect is that we are likely to see a growing number of people getting diagnosed with disease like cancer.

Critical illness cover pays out a cash sum if you’re diagnosed with one of the critical illnesses covered by your policy, and the most common reasons for a claim are cancer, heart attacks and stroke. Many policies can include cover for your children too. Often this type of cover will give you much more than financial protection, with access to practical and emotional support at a time when you might need it most.

In 2020, Scottish Widows paid out £81.9 million in critical illness claims helping thousands of families – 63% of those claims were to people with cancer. Furthermore, AIG has reported that their largest critical illness claim paid was for £736,000 and 62% of their claims were also for cancer. Whilst Aegon have also stated, that as per previous years cancer claims dominated critical illness claims in 2020 (62%).

Cancer is the toughest fight most of us will ever face. Its impact lasts long after treatment has ended. But while everyone anticipates the cost to health, few understand the financial impact of cancer.

Macmillan’s latest research reveals the sheer scale of the financial burden faced by people living with cancer. Four in five (83%) people are, on average, £570 a month worse off as a result of a cancer diagnosis. Income goes down and expenditure rises at a time when money worries should be the last thing on people’s minds.

People may stop working and face a loss of income, whilst having to cope with additional costs. These include costs associated with regular trips to medical appointments and spiraling household bills, including the cost of heating the home, because a person with cancer often feels the cold more.

Reduced income is a major factor of financial hardship. Almost one in three (30%) people living with cancer experienced a loss of income as a result of their diagnosis; those affected lose, on average, £860 a month. A third of respondents (33%) stopped working either permanently or temporarily.

That’s why leading insurance provider Aviva, who in 2020 paid out over £314 million for critical illness claims, with more than half being for cancer, has been working closely with Macmillan to help speed up claims for critical illness customers with cancer - by getting their Clinical Nurse Specialists to verify diagnosis, instead of requesting and waiting for medical reports.

A quick and successful claims process means that families get vital financial security quickly when they need it most.

Patricia, a customer of Scottish Widows, tells us why her pay out was vital for her. Patricia was only 47, leading a busy, active life, when she found out she had thyroid cancer (right in the middle of lockdown). For Patricia, life has always been full on. She’s a teacher and her family also run riding stables, so every week, there's competitions and lessons and looking after the horses. “It's physically very demanding. But I'm used to being active and energetic all the time. Plus, we have a large extended family, so there's always lots going on. In about May 2020, during the first lockdown, I felt more tired than usual. I just put it down to our busy lifestyle. But then I discovered a lump in my neck. Because of the strain the NHS was under with the pandemic, I couldn't get an online appointment. I had to go with a private healthcare provider, who did an ultrasound. And that's when I was told I had thyroid cancer. The diagnosis was a real shock. Unfortunately, my Dad had previously experienced a critical illness. That really made me feel that you never know what's in the future, so I had cover for myself and my partner. Although my wages were being paid, the riding school had to close for lockdown, which was difficult.”

Patricia adds, “I'm planning to use my claim to pay for my course of treatment privately. Once I am through this next stage of treatment, we all want to go away as a family. The protection (insurance) I had will make it easier to spend time with the people I love. There's light at the end of the tunnel now.”

We all spend money on things each month, that perhaps we don’t even really need, and you can’t really put a price on your own health. However if like Patricia, you want the peace of mind knowing that you are financially prepared for serious illness and critical illness cover is something you’d like to consider, please get in touch on 0800 612 8005. Our experts will assess your needs to help you find the right cover to protect your family’s future.

With thanks to Patricia and Scottish Widows for sharing her experience.