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One of the less-pleasant facts to face about life in your 60s, 70s and 80s is the fact that you’re more likely to have health issues. The biggest and most expensive, if you read the claims statistics by insurers out there, is definitely cancer. However, there is good news to be had here, even for those in their advanced years.

The good news

Fortunately, medicine and research has advanced dramatically and the ‘big C’ has been taken down a few pegs. Cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was and South Africa in particular has a great reputation for its oncology research and practises, with cancer fighters travelling from all over the world to receive treatment here.

Our insurance is top-tier too – critical illness cover, which includes dread disease cover and is the most common form of insurance to protect against cancer costs, was invented in SA.

Benefits of ‘cancer cover’

Unlike a normal medical aid, which simply covers certain medical procedures for certain covered illnesses (which usually don’t include cancer), critical illness cover is a more whole-of-life solution. This means that it covers not just predictable costs like chemotherapy or prescribed medication, but also any loss of income you may have (if still working) while undergoing cancer treatment.

Certain cancer cover will also pay for therapy sessions for you and your loved ones following the trauma of battling cancer and provide money towards comfort treatments (like wigs for those with hair loss, for example).

All of these make for compelling reasons to purchase critical illness or dread disease insurance. Here’s how, and here’s what to know:

Start as early as possible

First, the not-so-great news: insurance against cancer can be expensive if you’re taking it out after your 50s. This is because the algorithms insurers use to give you your monthly premium amount is calculated based on risk, and typically your risk is higher the older you are. However – it’s a lot less expensive than actually contracting cancer!

“I had cover when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, and we quickly burned through R3 million during treatment in just a couple of years,” said cancer survivor Dr Grant Hatch at Liberty’s recent Lib X launch.

This means that the younger you are when taking out cover, the lower your monthly payments are likely to be – so it pays to start earlier. Another tip: if you have an existing policy with a long-term insurer, for example a loss of income protection insurance product, it’s often more cost-effective to take out a second product with the same insurer than to go to a new one altogether.

Full disclosure is a must

In general, the more you tell about your lifestyle and potential risks, the better for both your insurance premium and the type of cover you can enjoy. Make your age clear to the financial adviser or insurer right away, to avoid any non-disclosure that could mean trouble later on.

But go one step further as well – give as much evidence as you can of a healthy lifestyle. Different insurers have different policies when it comes to health tests they require you to do, but doing the maximum amount and then some is always a good idea. Also be clear to mention if you have a history of cancer in you or your family and be clear that cancer cover is what you want.

Understand what will happen if you do contract cancer

Again, different insurers vary in their approach, but it’s likely that, especially at the age of 60 or older, your critical illness benefit will pay out in lump sum form, which means all of it at once rather than smaller monthly portions. Don’t worry, this lump sum is not taxed – but it does mean that it’s up to you to budget and understand the costs of your cancer treatment and medication in most instances.

This can actually often be an empowering experience, giving those dealing with the stresses of fighting cancer some much-needed hope and purpose. With a good head on your shoulders, a healthy lifestyle and a sound idea of how critical illness cover works, there’s no reason not to be fully prepared, and covered, well into your senior years.

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