Alive, but penniless

People can die financially long before their lives are over.

This was the main message of the keynote address given by Professor Marius Barnard at the ICLAM (International Committee for Insurance Medicine) at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 8 February 2009.

Professor Barnard, former heart surgeon and a member of the team who performed the first heart transplant in 1967, was instrumental in formulating  guidelines in the 1970s and 1980 for the relatively new industry of dread-disease insurance.

He stressed that with the advance of modern medicine, the outcomes of diseases have changed dramatically.

Causes of death different now

In 1901, most people were killed by diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. This pattern was largely changed by the advent of inventions such as immunisation, vaccination and penicillin.

The result of this was not only that life expectancy increased dramatically, but also that the causes of death took on a different profile. Now topping the list are diseases such as cancer, heart attacks and other diseases of lifestyle. Accidents are also a much more frequent cause of death than they were 100 years ago.

He did, however, warn that we should not think we have overcome bacteria and viruses: they are staging a very successful comeback.

As the main causes of death have changed, and modern medicine has made great strides, few people die from a first stroke or heart attack these days. Patients now survive, including cancer patients who have a 50% chance of surviving for another five years. In developed countries, the life expectancy has gone from 45 years for men and 49 years for women, to 75 years for men and 80 for women today.

Down, but not out

Strokes these days tend to be disabling, not fatal.

And that's where the problem comes in: life insurance doesn't pay out, because you're still alive.

"These days, people need insurance, not because they die, but because they're going to live", said Barnard. "More than half of stroke patients will be dependent on others for their survival, and that costs money."

And that at a time when you are unable to generate any income, because of your condition. He mentioned that it was a question of 'we can replace your kidney, but your bank balance will have to be completely removed.'

He stressed that the emphasis should not purely be on life insurance, but on providing frail care and dread-disease insurance for oneself, as you need the money while you're still alive. In years gone by breadwinners needed to provide for their families in case they died young. This was still important, but was not the only insurance about which we should be concerned.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, February 2010)

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