Advising Today's Business

The Critical Need For Critical Illness Coverage

How to help your clients save employees’ lives and livelihoods

by Pam Jenkins

Ms. Jenkins is the assistant vice president for product development at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. Contact her at

While coronavirus grabs the headlines, thousands of Americans are falling victim to much more deadly illnesses. Cardiovascular disease — heart attacks, strokes and the like — has been the leading killer of people in the U.S. for decades. More than 600,000 will die from cancer this year… and these serious illnesses aren’t going away any time soon.

The American Heart Association predicts 40% of the U.S. population will suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease by 2030 — that’s more than 100 million people. And the American Cancer Society expects more than 1.8 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed this year.
True, advances in medical treatment, technology and early detection mean many more people are surviving cancer and heart attacks. Decades ago, a heart attack killed up to half its victims within a few days. Now, more than 90% of people survive. Cancer survival rates have also increased substantially in the past several decades.

Cost Of The Cure

That’s great news — but living through a heart attack, stroke or cancer comes with a big price tag. Medical costs for cancer total $80 billion in the U.S. Meanwhile, costs for cardiovascular disease treatment are projected to more than double from the current $318 billion to $749 billion by 2035. Indirect costs — lost time at work, paying for additional services at home, transportation, child care and other expenses — will leap more than 55% to $368 billion during that time.

Even the best major medical insurance won’t cover all these expenses. Between high deductibles, copayments and indirect expenses not covered by insurance, survivors can end up with a huge stack of bills. In fact, a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine showed 42% of new cancer patients lose all of their life savings in two years because of treatment — an average of about $92,000. Nearly two-thirds of cancer patients are in debt because of their treatment, and 55% of them owe at least $10,000, researchers found after tracking 9.5 million cancer patients from 2000 to 2012.

his also means thousands of employees are returning to work with new concerns and needs: time off for follow-up appointments and ongoing treatment, flexible schedules during the transition back to full strength, financial stress and worry, and a renewed focus on their health and benefits.

You can help your clients prepare for the needs of their employees recovering from serious illnesses, so your clients maximize their investment in training and developing employees and retain the valuable talent they need to succeed. Here are some solutions you can bring to your clients:

Add Critical illness And Cancer Coverage To The Benefits package

Critical illness and cancer insurance can help fill the financial gap between what major medical covers and the significant out-of-pocket expenses associated with serious illnesses. These policies typically pay a lump sum upon diagnosis and additional benefits for a variety of treatments and services, such as ambulance transportation, hospital confinement, radiation and chemotherapy, medications and surgery. The newest versions of these products cover a wide range of conditions beyond heart disease and cancer: organ failure, permanent paralysis caused by an accident, coma, loss of sight or hearing, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and more. Reoccurrence benefits are usually standard, providing another layer of coverage if the same illness strikes again.

Critical illness and cancer insurance can help fill the financial gap between what major medical covers and the significant out-of-pocket expenses associated with serious illnesses. These policies typically pay a lump sum upon diagnosis and additional benefits for a variety of treatments and services

These coverages are available on a group or individual basis, often with simplified or guaranteed issue underwriting. And your clients don’t have to make room in the benefits budget to add these plans because they’re usually offered as voluntary benefits. That means employees choose the coverage they want, and pay for it themselves.

Strengthen Wellness Benefits.

Some voluntary insurance policies include wellness benefits that pay a set amount for preventive screening tests such as colonoscopies, mammograms and X-rays. This helps catch potential problems earlier, when they’re easier and less expensive to treat. The benefits paid for annual screening tests also make the coverage even more affordable, in effect reducing the net cost of the premiums for employees. The benefit is paid even if the exam is covered by health insurance and the amount doesn’t depend on the actual cost of the test.

There are also many no- or low-cost wellness programs your clients can put in place: employee walking clubs, sponsoring weight-loss programs, subsidizing gym memberships, brown bag speakers on health topics. Some employers even have a wellbeing committee or team to organize the activities most meaningful to that organization.

Offer an employee assistance program.

EAPs provide short-term counseling and referral services to help employees with personal and family issues and work/life balances, at no cost to employees. Services typically include in-person, phone or online counseling and other online tools and educational resources. EAPs can also include financial counseling and educational programs with access to online calculators, budgeting tools, videos and webinars, plus access to complimentary financial coaching by phone. This type of support can be invaluable to your clients’ employees dealing with the emotional and financial stress of a serious illness. EAP services are included in some insurance plans, or your clients can contract for them separately.

Implement Return-to-Work Practices

Return-to-work programs have been proven hugely successful at helping employees transition safely back to their jobs — and helping your clients save the significant costs of hiring and training replacement staff or paying overtime to other workers. Some employees might need a part-time schedule as they ease back into their jobs, while others can benefit from simple, inexpensive accommodations. For example, an assembly line worker who can’t stand for an eight-hour shift could use a leaning stool for support and be just as productive.

Implementing a return-to-work program successfully might require some outside expertise for evaluation and recommendations. Ask your carrier partners if they offer these services or can point you to a resource for your clients.

Review Leave and Flex-Work Policies

Employees recovering from serious illnesses may be continuing their treatment as they return to the workplace and need time off for follow-up appointments. Encourage your clients to prepare by reviewing their policies for paid and unpaid leave, flexible schedules and work-at-home arrangements. Keeping key talent on board will benefit your clients and their employees in the long run.

Everyone knows someone who’s been personally affected by cancer, a heart attack or another serious illness. You can play a critical role in helping your clients prepare for and support their employees facing these life-changing events — and that creates a win-win for everyone.