The Impact of Critical Illness


The Impact of Critical Illness

While we all hope to live long and healthy lives, it is an unfortunate fact of life that as we get older we have an increased chance of suffering serious illness. And although critical illnesses are more common among the elderly, younger people are also at risk.In Hong Kong, some of the most common illnesses for which insurance claims are made are cancer, stroke, heart attack, benign brain tumour and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus).

According to the National Business Group on Health in the US, the direct (hospital and drug charges etc.) and indirect (e.g., time away from work) costs of a severe heart attack can amount to as much as USD1 million.

Other illnesses carry their own problems too.

“The impact of cancer lasts long after treatment has ended and few understand the financial stresses and strains of the disease,” says Sally Lo, founder and chief executive of the Hong Kong Cancer Fund. “For many people affected by the disease, their income decreases as they are forced to stop work permanently or temporarily during treatment, while expenditure increases at a time when money worries should be the furthest thing from their minds.”

She points out that people should be aware that many targeted drugs may not be covered by insurance, so it is important to discuss all policy details through with your financial advisor when considering critical illness cover. Indeed, while having the right insurance in place will minimize the financial burden of serious illness, it is also wise to build your savings and investments to cover various indirect costs. “Cancer patients with a low blood count need particular foods, which can be expensive” Lo adds. “Home care visits from nurses and other allied health professionals, as well as the extra help patients may need to cover childcare and housekeeping, add to the charges.”

Non-medical expenses may be significant, too, such as transport costs to and from hospital, as can post-treatment care, such as wheelchairs, prostheses, special beds and other equipment. These costs may be particularly high for stroke patients, whose care and therapy may require wheelchairs, intensive rehabilitation programmes and close nursing. Expensive changes to the home may be required for patients with limited mobility. An anti-bedsore mattress can cost thousands of dollars, and more specialised home care equipment can cost much more.

The same can also apply for patients having undergone benign brain tumour operations, who may require extensive care and follow-up, such as occupational or speech therapy that may not be covered by insurance.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is an auto-immune disorder where the body is attacked by its own defence system. It is more common in Chinese women than many other demographics, and although these days it is usually a manageable illness with life expectancy similar to that of healthy individuals, as with any long-term illness there are costs to consider. Patients may be less productive due to the disease itself or the drugs used to treat it, and if you are on a very limited budget even things such as the cost of trips to the doctor can add up.

According to Sally Lo: “Each year [the Hong Kong Cancer Fund’s] professional caregivers are faced with clients who encounter enormous stress at home because they are under intense financial strain, which in turn has a significant impact on their wellbeing and recovery.”

Having the right protection in place is the simplest way to relieve much of this financial pressure, for you and your family, and improve your chances of a quick recovery. But anyone suffering a serious illness who feels they need more help should consider contacting a relevant support group. These organisations are experienced at helping with specific needs. Some, such as the Cancer Fund, can even offer subsidised drugs, and many also offer advice on financial planning and government benefits.

Useful contact info:

Tel: 2812 9797

Hong Kong Lupus Association (website in Chinese only)
Tel: 8103 7018
Tel: 3667 3030

A version of this article also appears on Talking Retirement.