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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.

So even though the number of cases of cancer continues to rise, (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) the instances of successful treatment are also increasing sharply.

What this means for financial planners is that ensuring every client has the right level of severe illness cover has never been more important, says the Head of Distribution Support at Sanlam Individual Life, Deon Theunis. He explains that protracted treatment periods can deal a devastating blow to patients’ financial situation as they often have to stay away from work for extended periods while maintaining all their living expenses and covering many unforeseen costs.

“At Sanlam we are deeply committed to ensuring that severe illness benefits remain affordable in light of the high cancer stats. Currently, more than 60% of severe illness claims admitted by the life insurance industry in any year are solely as a result of cancer. In our current lacklustre economy, most people are finding it very hard to make ends meet and it is imperative they don’t drop cover for something so statistically high risk.

“This is why we’ve become the first financial services group in South Africa to innovate our severe illness offering to allow for an affordable cancer-only option.

Theunis reminds us that severe illness cover was the brainchild of Dr Marius Barnard. The brother of Dr Christiaan Barnard proposed the idea in the 1980s because he recognised that patients were struggling to cope financially during the treatment and recovery process.

“Across the industry, the severe illness offering remained largely the same for three decades, but it is necessary, in light of very distinct claims trends, to adjust how risk cover is packaged so it stays affordable. We must provide cover where it counts.”

Unlike many tiered benefits that pay according to the stage of a cancer, Theunis explains that Sanlam’s cancer-only benefit recognises that not all cancers are the same. “For instance, while it would be suitable to pay 25% for stage 1 skin cancer, paying 25% for stage 1 pancreatic cancer will fall short of properly covering clients. As a result, Sanlam’s Impact range will pay 100% of the insured amount from stage 1 for specified aggressive cancers. In designing the severe illness offering, we considered the ‘impact’ of different cancers in order to make sure that when consumers are given more affordable options, they remain properly covered,” said Theunis.

He adds that the cancer-only benefit also serve as an alternative for people who are not able to increase or acquire comprehensive severe illness cover due to other medical reasons. And for those with affordability concerns, cancer-only benefits provide a means to construct a more affordable overall package by combining comprehensive and cancer-only benefits.

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