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The good news: “Treatment for this devastating illness is improving all the time. In fact in June 2016 the Economist reported that around 70 new cancer drugs are contributing to far better prognoses for cancer patients. Doctors are also, for the first time, starting to talk about cancer cures rather than only talking remission.

“Early diagnoses, made possible by advancements in medical technology and a well-informed symptom-spotting ‘Google-generation’, are also contributing to higher survival rates. Prominent individuals like Angelina Jolie, who had elective surgery to ward off her statistically high threat of breast and ovarian cancer, are also raising awareness.”

The bad news: Unfortunately, the number of people being diagnosed continues to ascend rapidly. The World Health Organisation predicts new cancer cases will rise by around 70% over the next two decades and one in four South Africans will be impacted during their lifetime either directly or through a loved one being diagnosed.

So, says Theunis, there’ll be more people diagnosed, but also many more cured. “This is such welcome news as this devastating disease causes untold physical and emotional pain. But the higher recovery rates come with a caution: Treatment and recovery can deal a blow to most patients’ finances. The risk of falling into debt also becomes very high. There are very sad examples of families who have had to sell their homes and move in with family because of the exorbitant costs of treatment and recovery.”

This is not only true for our country. For instance, in America, according to the Kaiser Center for Health Research on a group of American cancer patients age 18 to 64, one third were put into debt because of cancer.

Theunis says having a specific type of insurance, commonly referred to as severe illness cover, is the best way to manage the financial risks. “This cover is different to medical aid, which covers doctors and hospital bills. Severe Illness cover is intended to pay for medical aid shortfalls and expenses not usually paid by medical aid. It can also supplement reduced incomes when the illness is so debilitating that a career change or even stopping work is required, and in some cases, the benefit assists with experiences like a holiday, to help ease the emotional impact of the disease.”

Theunis says that in order to keep severe illness cover as accessible as possible, Sanlam set a first in South Africa by launching a ‘cancer-only’ severe illness offering. “When we looked at the insurance industry’s claims statistics, it became clear that the likelihood of contracting cancer is far higher than any other disease. 60% of severe illness claims in 2016 were cancer-related. Claims for stroke and heart disease were also high. Based on this, we were determined to find a way to offer consumers affordable cover where it counts the most.”

This option was designed with consumers’ financial constraints in mind and as a means to help them reduce their costs instead of cancelling their policies in the current tight economic conditions. “As tempting as it can be to cut insurance, the statistics are not in any of our favour, so being well prepared for cancer is really the best situation to be in.”

Sanlam has also developed a stand-alone cardiovascular benefit for heart and stroke-related diseases which also have far higher claims instances than any other severe illnesses. Theunis says severe illnesses cover should form part of a holistic financial plan which is drawn up in conjunction with a certified financial planner.

Sanlam Life Insurance is a licensed financial service provider.
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