With advances in medicine, many diseases that were incurable in the past, such as stage 3 and stage 4 cancer, are now becoming more controllable with much longer survival owing to new treatment. Such new treatment essentially has become a beacon of hope to many patients and their family. This said, life is rarely that easy, and a treatment that is available does not necessarily mean that the treatment is affordable. This brings on the question as to whether “surviving with cancer” is actually a blessing or a curse? Furthermore, how should we deal with this situation which is turning into a new normal.
Potential financial burden from drugs
As mentioned, in recent years, there are many breakthroughs in the treatment of stage 3 and stage 4 cancer, such as the introduction of target therapy and immune therapy. These drugs control and retard the growth of cancer cells, so that a patient can coexist with the cancer for a longer period of time. For instance, with Stage 4 lung cancer, the expected survival in the past was only around 6 months, but now it can be up to 3 to 5 years. Many of the survivors can also still enjoy life like normal people with very limited side effect.
Given research is a very expensive investment, these drugs are usually very expensive when they first launch to market, and hence may not be readily available in the public health system. So for many patients even if there cancer could be treated by these drugs, faces another difficulty which is financial concern. Given these drugs could easily be over a hundred thousand dollars a month, the financial burden is quite stressful to many people, even the middle social class.
Even worse, since these drugs only control the growth of cancer but not killing them for good, patients have to take these drugs for as long as they are effective, which imply the financial burden is not one off, but long term. Regardless though, having a chance for treatment is still better than not having a chance, and many will relentlessly go for that pursuit even if the chance is slim. So for many patients and families, they will try very hard to afford for such drugs even though this could mean a significant financial burden to them.
When people survive longer with cancer, apart from the use of target or immune therapy, there will be other treatment that needs to go hand in hand. This may include surgery, laboratory investigations, hospitalization etc., This amount may easily be over two or even three hundred thousand Hong Kong dollars.
How to handle the additional living expenses?
More importantly, even the new therapy may have limited effect on the normal life of a patient. But they may still get a chance to not able to work while suffering from cancer, and the impact will be more significant if that patient is the bread winner of the family. Sometimes, even the family have to quit their jobs to look after the patient, and this will only make their financial situation worse.
To avoid having to face such conundrum, it is pertinent that we plan our health and financial protection in advance. Amongst the very many kinds of products that offer such protection, it is important to know that some critical illness insurance products may only offer one-time lump sum payment while some medical insurance products many not include new and expensive treatment in their coverage. Furthermore, for products that offer only one time lump sum payment, another problem is that they cannot cater for the long term need of patients that cannot work to make a living. So when customers bought these products, they may still be very worried at the time of need.
To achieve the most comprehensive protection, the ideal way is to get both good quality critical illness and medical care insurance. For medical care insurance, it is recommended to acquire full cover product, so one need not to worry about medical expense being over the limit of coverage. For critical illness insurance, to target the need of people worried about suffering from cancer, it is recommended to purchase products that can offer multiple claims illness benefits with Continuous Cancer Payout Benefit, so that it can cater for some long term expenditures such as household expenses. In this case, a person can achieve peace of mind and focus all one’s energy in fighting the disease.
The above content is reviewed by Dr Alexander Chiu - Medical Director, Health and Employee Benefits of AXA Hong Kong and Macau
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