Raise your hand if you don’t know anyone who’s had cancer, a heart attack or a stroke.
No hands at all? No surprise. The American Heart Association estimates nearly 86 million Americans are living with cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking more lives than all forms of cancer combined. And the American Cancer Society estimated nearly 1.7 million new cancer cases would be diagnosed last year.
But it’s not all gloom and doom: More of us are surviving. More than 75% of patients now survive a first stroke, and half live beyond 5 years. And death rates are declining for all four of the most common cancer types: lung, colorectal, breast and prostate.
Sorry, we’re not done with the bad news yet. The treatment costs for critical illnesses can be staggering. Surgery can range from $14,000 to $57,000, followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy at about $10,000 a month. Drugs are taking a lot of the blame for the high treatment tab, some costing well over $100,000 a year. Meanwhile, the American Heart Association says the direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular disease — including health costs and lost productivity — total nearly $317 billion.
Your health insurance will help, but it doesn’t cover everything. Out-of-pocket expenses can include copayments, deductibles, out-of-network treatments and home health care needs. Then there are what some call the “hidden costs,” such as lodging and meals when traveling for treatments, gas and parking during visits to appointments, child care, or help with chores such as housecleaning, yard work, cooking or errands. And if you lose income while you’re unable to work, you could have a tough time paying for everyday living expenses including mortgage or rent, utilities and food.
“A typical major medical plan will cover many of the health-related expenses imposed by a serious illness, but treating these illnesses is expensive,” said Simon Milazzo, products manager at employee benefits provider Unum. “Some out-of-pocket expenses are predictable, like deductibles and copayments, but others may be unexpected and have a significant financial impact.”
How critical illness insurance can help
Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Critical illness insurance has been around for decades, but still isn’t widely understood.
Critical illness insurance complements your major medical coverage by paying a lump-sum amount — typically from $5,000 to $100,000 depending on the coverage you buy — if you’re diagnosed with a covered illness. Those illnesses may include heart attack, stroke, end-stage renal failure, coronary artery bypass surgery, major organ failure and sometimes cancer.
Added bonus: You don’t have to get sick to take advantage of your critical illness insurance. Many plans include a wellness benefit that pays you a set amount — $50 to $150 is typical — when you get a covered health screening, such as a mammogram, colonoscopy or x-ray. These tests can help in early detection to help prevent more serious illness from developing.
Many employers offer critical illness insurance as part of their benefits package on a voluntary basis. That means you choose and pay for it yourself, but because it’s offered at work in a group setting, it’s often more affordable than you might expect. If your employer doesn’t offer critical illness insurance now, you can ask them to add it.