Critical Illness insurance is without doubt one of my preferred subjects and I have recommended the product personally to hundreds of dentists. Perhaps one of the reasons for my advocacy is a conversation I had with Dr Marius Barnard, the pioneer of this insurance. After attending a fascinating presentation by Dr Barnard, I elected to miss the rest of the afternoon session and chose instead to sit in the lounge and have a coffee with him. We had a very interesting and frank discussion. Critical Illness cover is a very simple idea that pays out a lump sum on diagnosis of a serious or critical illness such as a heart attack, stroke or cancer. I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why the critical illness product was developed, and why it is so important.
Dr Marius Barnard was born in Beaufort West, South Africa. The son of a missionary, he spent most of his childhood in one of the country’s most deprived areas. Against the odds, he and his brother Christiaan went on to study medicine and became heart surgeons. On the 3rd of December 1967, Marius changed the medical world forever when he assisted his brother Christiaan in the first human-to-human transplant. With a specialist interest in developing cardiac surgery techniques for infants under one week old, Marius went on to become one of the world’s most acclaimed heart surgeons. Governments across the world acknowledged his achievements, with awards for contributions to medicine and humanity, but it was his work with victims of heart disease and other critical illnesses that made Marius realise the need that people have for financial protection when they are seriously ill. By operating successfully on his patients Marius soon realised that although he could improve their quantity of life, their quality of life was a different matter. After being diagnosed with a critical illness, the patients were left penniless having had to give up their jobs. As a result, families found themselves struggling to pay for even the most basic everyday requirements. Ironically, if Marius’s patients had not survived treatment, their Life Insurance policies would have paid out and despite the family’s loss, they may well have been more financially secure. Marius stated: The case that really triggered my ideas was a young divorcee, 34, with two young children. The X-rays and biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of lung cancer and we removed a lump. She went home five days later and three weeks later she was back at work. Two years approximately after the operation, she came to me at my consulting rooms, basically dying on her feet. Pale, exhausted, loss of weight, skin and bone, gasping for breath, and I examined her and it was pretty obvious that she was now in the terminal stages of cancer. Why should she come to my rooms? She can hardly walk. She said ‘Doctor, I’ve come from work’. Now why was she at work? She needed the money. She needed money to provide for her children and herself, rent food, education. She died a few weeks later and when she was buried the life insurance policy paid out. Wouldn’t it have been better for her to have the money when we diagnosed cancer? That poor little girl had to work until basically she was dead. This experience led him to design the very first critical illness insurance, with a South African insurer back in 1983. Since the 80s, society’s need for critical illness insurance has increased at an alarming rate. As medical technology expands its boundaries, more people than ever are surviving illnesses that might have been lethal twenty-five years ago. In surviving, patients find themselves with outgoings they may never have thought about, such as paying for rehabilitation or upgrades to their home – all as a result of their illness. The majority of dentists we meet often have a significant amount of mortgage and practice debt. These debts become the last thing people want to worry about when they are coming to terms with critical illness. What Marius did was revolutionary and unprecedented. As a doctor, he identified a very real need for an insurance product based not on a need to increase business revenue but a genuine desire to help his patients and their families. Marius recognised the financial problems his patients were facing and created a product that could go some way towards addressing their needs. He still lives in South Africa, but has spent the last few years travelling the world as a dedicated champion of Critical Illness insurance. According to statistics supplied by our main dentist’s insurer, the average age of a claimant is 43, with the youngest – who had claimed for a heart attack – just 30 years old. With youth no defence against critical illness, it is hard to see why anyone would want to be without cover, with such disastrous potential consequences. I hope that the above has kindled an urge to learn more about this wonderful product. To watch Dr Marius Barnard talking about Critical Illness cover, click here