Other changes to the product have been driven by developments in medical practice. For example, in relation to some less severe prostate cancers , the medical approach may now be simply ‘watchful waiting’ rather than direct surgical intervention, which has supported the development of an additional/partial payment for low level prostate cancers, where some intervention is undertaken.
In the UK the Association of British Insurers has via technical medical working groups issued six ‘Statement of Best Practice for Critical Illness ‘between 1999 and 2014. While companies in Ireland are not ABI members, typically we have followed these sensible guidelines. This is turn has led to changes in definitions of things like ‘heart attack’ and ‘stroke’ to make these conditions clearer as to what’s covered and what’s not covered, as well as an element of future proofing the definition.
What might the future of this cover look like? In some other parts of the world companies offer a whole range of different variations. For example some offer very basic products with only 3 conditions being covered, some the complete opposite with 150 + conditions being covered!
Extra conditions are offered in some markets on children’s cover plans for example conditions like Downs Syndrome, cerebral palsy and spina bifida. While they may be appealing to include, they make the children’s cover element expensive to include within a parents plan.
In some countries for malignant cancer, different levels of payment are made depending on the severity or what stage the cancer is at when diagnosed. For example only 25% of the sum assured may be payable for a T1 cancer right up to 100% for a T4 cancer. In some countries the size of the benefit paid is linked to the person’s age i.e. more than 100% of the sum assured is paid if a condition presents at a younger age, say before age 50. This reflects the likely more severe financial impact a significant medical diagnosis has at a younger age.
In Asian countries it’s not unusual for companies to market a child only product or a female only product. Multi-pay products are also available in some countries, where a customer can claim for more than one specified illness event under the same plan. For example they get paid a claim for a malignant cancer and then cover stays in force and they can then claim again for a different condition in the future e.g. heart attack.
As it has in the past, developments in medicine will also drive product changes and amendments into the future. More medical screening is being done in Ireland, so these will drive up earlier detection of some conditions e.g. colon, cervical and breast cancers. MRI scanning for example is getting even more sophisticated and this may drive up early detection of some brain tumours even before symptoms start. Then there is the whole area of genetic testing; where will that be in 15 years’ time?
The future is not without its challenges for this product but the industry has innovated in the past as a result of changes and I am confident it will do so again. We will continue to seek even better ways to ensure that customers are protected in the event of a sudden life altering illness.
In summary I believe the specified illness plans available in Ireland offer very comprehensive cover, and are very good value for money by international standards and meet a real customer need. I will finish with a quote from a complementary letter the Irish Life claims team received from a financial broker after we paid a malignant colon cancer claim to a man in his late 30s – this goes to the heart of specified illness cover as a core part of the protection we can offer customers. “It’s only at the claims stage do we fully appreciate how valuable a role we play in providing good advice and products to our clients. It certainly gives me a great sense of satisfaction to know that we have made a difference to this young family at a difficult time”