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Disease-specific Cancer care cover: Should you opt for it?

Priyadarshini Maji
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A recent report highlighted that cancer is the second leading cause of death after heart disease in India. Experts say, because of our fast-paced and unhealthy lifestyles, the incidence of this disease is set to increase. According to estimations by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India is likely to have over 880,000 cancer-related deaths and over 1.73 million new cancer cases by 2020.

Dr. Kanika Sharma, senior consultant, radiation oncology, at Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, says, India is the second largest country by population and there are fair chances of underreporting and deficiencies in screening. Insufficient medical facilities can be a reason for under-reporting. A report also pointed out that actual cancer incidence can be between 150 and 200 per 1 lakh population.

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This dreaded disease strikes fear in even the most strong-willed. Cancer is treatable if diagnosed early. Industry experts suggest, though there is no absolute prevention against cancer, following a healthy lifestyle can help in the long run. Besides the alarming increase in its number, the expenses for the treatment of this disease are also on the rise. In case the disease strikes, a cancer policy in such a case can soften the financial blow.

Standalone cancer covers that are currently available in India include Future Genrali Cancer protect, Aegon life iCancer, HDFC Life Cancer Care Plan, LIC Cancer Cover Plan, Max Life Cancer Plan, and ICICI PRU Heart+Cancer plan. These disease-specific policies come with an assured sum of a higher range, unlike normal health insurance plans, which is the main reason for opting for these plans. These plans make payouts at various stages of the disease. For instance, if one is diagnosed with cancer at a minor/early stage, around 20-25 per cent of the sum assured is paid depending on the insurer and if the disease reaches a critical stage, the balance amount is paid. Some of the insurers also waive future premium payments under these policies after diagnosis.

These plans also come with income benefit option, under which on the diagnosis of a major stage of cancer, the insurer pays a monthly income equivalent to 1 per cent of the chosen sum assured for a period of 3-5 years. Some insurers also pay this benefit over and above the chosen sum assured. Dr. Gaurav Thukral, COO & Critical Care Specialist, HealthCare-at-Home, says, Cancer management has improved drastically in the past few years. Latest technologies have made it possible to screen breast and cervical cancers at home. Also, most part of the treatment, which includes chemotherapy, post-surgical care, hydration therapy, and palliative care can also be availed at home. Advanced technology, improved awareness, healthcare facilities at home have played a leading role in bringing down the mortality especially in breast and cervical cancer patients.

As an alternative for cancer covers, one can also opt for critical-illness policies. Critical illness policies cover around 10-35 major ailments which vary from insurer to insurer. Under these policies, the policyholder is paid the amount for which they are insured, on a diagnosis of any disease on the list. Unlike cancer policies, the insurer does not make stage-based payouts. Rishi Mathur, Head – Products and Strategy, Canara HSBC OBC Life Insurance says, “Health insurance policies, particularly that offering coverage on diagnosis for critical diseases such as cancer and heart-related conditions, can be particularly useful for customers to help bear the financial burden that accompanies such diseases. The patient can use the money expenses of hospitalization, supplemental care/ nursing, loss of income and expensive medicines, which start from day 1 and not when cancer has reached a particular stage.”

Even having a similar sum assured, the premiums of disease-specific policies are lower than that of critical-illness covers because the disease-specific policies provide cover for only one disease. For instance, the premium for Apollo Munich’s critical-illness policy covering 37 diseases costs Rs 4,426, for a 35-year-old, whereas Future Generali’s Cancer Protect costs Rs 1,408.

Experts suggest, most people are dependent on their employer’s group health policies, which come with a lot of limitations. Also, these policies tend to have a low sum insured because they are planned for a large group of policyholders. Hence, one needs to supplement their employer’s cover with a personal health cover along with a critical-illness policy or a disease-specific policy.