Living with confidence after suffering a severe illness

No one plans on getting cancer or to suffer a heart attack or stroke, but the reality is that cancer affects 25% of all South Africans, while 40% have high blood pressure **.  Globally, one in five women and one in four men will be diagnosed with cancer over their lifetime, with 108,168 new cases diagnosed in South Africa in 2020 alone ***.  Furthermore, 120 South Africans suffer a heart attack daily and ten people suffer a stroke every hour.  In fact, almost 1 in every 5 deaths in South Africa are caused by cardiovascular diseases and only HIV and AIDS claims more lives nationally **.  To make things worse, the continuing nationwide lockdown has impacted negatively on both our physical and mental well-being, with many of us not getting enough exercise, gaining weight and/or experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, all increasing our risk for cardiovascular disease.

With September being Heart Awareness Month and October being the equivalent for Breath Cancer, it is important for us to consider what preventative or mitigating measures every one of us can put in place.  Even though this can be a challenge during lockdown, it is important to have regular health check-ups, as well as cancer screening, because early detection is key to enabling effective treatment and greatly increases your chances of recovery from cancer.  Certain lifestyle choices also have a big impact, especially if we consider that 80% of heart diseases and strokes can be prevented by simply living a healthy lifestyle and effectively managing existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes **.  Healthy lifestyle choices include maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking or vaping, managing stress levels and exercising regularly.

Even in an ideal world where we are able to implement many of the aforementioned preventative measures, that is no guarantee that we will never experience a severe illness during our lifetime.  For this reason, it is also crucial to consider the true impact that severe illnesses will have on the lives of employees.  Will they still be able to life with confidence in the unfortunate event that they are diagnosed with cancer or suffer a cardiovascular event?  To ensure that the answer to this question is “Yes”, they must be in a financial position to foot the bills for the various additional and unexpected, hidden costs associated with these illnesses.  These costs include the likely unforeseen medical costs not covered by their medical aid and gap cover, in addition to the lifestyle adjustments that will most likely be required.  Lifestyle adjustments can include anything from rehabilitation costs, access to alternative or cutting-edge treatments, childcare, travelling to treatment centres, private nursing and a decrease in salary due to reducing working hours to manage stress levels.  Many people do not consider these additional and often hidden expenses beforehand, because it only becomes apparent once you have actually survived one of these life-changing events.

While most employees have life and disability cover in place through their retirement fund or by means of a group insurance policy with their employer, severe illness insurance has historically been relatively underutilized in the group insurance market.  This is unfortunate as employees do not always qualify for occupational disability benefits after suffering a severe illness and their disability insurance may therefore not assist them in these cases.  A big reason for the low market penetration is because this type of insurance is generally viewed as relatively expensive and complex for employers and employees to understand.  These are however exactly the reasons SGR’s Severe Illness products were launched, because:

  • they consider the true impact of the specified severe illness events on the lives of employees, there-by offering a cost-effective solution; and
  • a set of layman’s definitions is available on the Sanlam website which explains the contractual claim event definitions in terms that are more easily understandable for employers and employees; and
  • employers are able to structure the insurance on a modular basis to provide either cancer, cardiovascular or comprehensive benefits based on what is affordable for their employees.

An analysis of SGR’s claims for 2020 shows that cardiovascular diseases make up 32% and cancers 49% of all severe illness claims paid.  By providing only cancer and cardiovascular cover at a reduced cost, employers can therefore insure their employees against more than 80% of the typical severe illness claim events.

Click here to read more on the Severe Illness Insurance: Impact Range-offering.

For more information, please speak to your Employee Benefits representative.

Cobus Tolken

** Stats as per The Heart and Stroke Foundation, South Africa.

*** Stats as per Globocan 2020 (Global Cancer Observatory).