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Protection: Are you looking past the price?

Updated: 6th January 2021

Buying protection insurance shouldn’t just be about cost. We look at where the real added value can be found.

Due to the inherent complexity of protection products, it can often be difficult to compare two products directly. The temptation, therefore, is to select the cheaper option.

However, as the saying goes, ‘caveat emptor’, or ‘buyer beware’. Because there’s likely to be a reason why one is cheaper than the other, due to an absence of value.

Of the 20 or so providers in the protection space who offer critical illness cover, it’s true that most cover a similar number of conditions, with both full and partial payout conditions.

But despite all this, two plans covering a similar number of conditions may still have a wide variation in the level of cover they provide. So it’s important to really understand the differences in the cover you’re recommending and the implications these can have on clients.

The devil is in the detail

Similarly, you need to make sure that, as far as possible, your clients fully understand what they’re buying. After all, just because two policies cover the same condition, doesn’t mean they’ll pay out at the same time, for example.

Take prostate cancer: many protection providers cover it at a low grade. However, most will only pay out on surgical removal of the prostate or where there has been some other form of treatment.

Now, the recommended treatment for low grade prostate cancer, according to the NICE guidelines, is in fact to adopt active surveillance. So removal of the prostate is unlikely to be recommended by doctors at this stage of the disease, hence no chance of a payout – in some cases for years, in other cases ever – from their critical illness cover.

Angioplasty is another typical example of where the devil is in the detail. Most critical illness providers will only pay out when two or more arteries or the left main stem artery of the heart have been operated on. But when you take into account that over 80% of angioplasties are only operated on one artery, many people are left disappointed and empty-handed as soon as they try to claim.

It’s a similar story with problems arising in the kidneys, known as acute and chronic kidney injuries. Despite the significant lifestyle impact these illnesses can have on clients, critical illness providers who cover the conditions will only pay out when the client has reached end-stage kidney failure. This can be a difficult threshold to reach as many people who suffer acute kidney injuries will go on to make a full recovery.

The net result of all this can be that advisers progressively face a growing sense of cynicism from their clients, in cases where their plan doesn’t pay out as expected.

Not all cover is the same

But there are signs that some insurers are starting to do more for clients. Vitality is one of few providers who cover low grade prostate cancer, with no requirement for treatment. This in line with customer expectations, where three quarters expect to be covered for low grade prostate cancer regardless of required treatment1.

When it comes to problems with the kidneys, unlike other providers, Vitality will pay out when the client undergoes dialysis – from either one day continuously or if the treatment is staggered over a two week period. The payouts will then increase alongside the duration of the treatment and the severity of the illness, if the client isn’t to make a full recovery.

Paying out at early stages of illness not only helps to ensure expectations are better met, it gives vital peace of mind to both clients and advisers.

In the case of Vitality’s Serious Illness Cover Plus, it makes an initial payment for an angioplasty no matter how many vessels or which ones are operated on, with an increased payment once two or more or the left main stems are operated on. Again this is in line with customer expectations with 8 in 10 people expecting a payout for angioplasty on one artery1.

Earlier payments

Unlike most plans, which are designed to provide cover for a one-off payment or a high degree of severity – meaning many people having to suffer for prolonged periods without any financial assistance – Vitality’s Serious Illness Cover takes a severity-based approach, as well as covering more conditions at earlier stages.

This means that payouts are according to the impact an illness has, which is better aligned to the needs of today. After all, medical advances have improved the way illnesses are treated and surgical procedures have become less invasive, which means that conditions today often have a smaller lifestyle impact than they had previously. Over seventy percent of customers1 and doctors2 see it as very important that payments under a critical illness policy to pay out on severity, which enable earlier payouts and a higher chance of claim.

This means your clients can get access to their cover when they first face an illness, with cover continuing in the event that their illness progresses or they get another illness. Another good example of this is rheumatoid arthritis. Vitality cover this on diagnosis and then increases the payment as the condition deteriorates, whereas other providers require a significant impact before making a payment. In addition, if your client wants the security of a full payout for conditions that get a full payout under a critical illness cover, they can select Serious Illness Cover Booster for an extra cost.

Think wider 

Next time you are advising one of your clients on protection, there are several elements in terms of value to consider. In particular the breadth of coverage and making sure that cover is in place for lower severity as well as higher severity illnesses are particularly important. The devil really is in the detail. Vitality prides itself on its wide range of coverage and the definitions which increase the chances of payout. To find out more about their cover, why not check out their Vitality Conditions Covered Tool.

1. Independent research of 800 policyholders or prospective policyholders commissioned by Vitality in March 2018
2. Independent research of 150 doctors commissioned by Vitality in March 2018

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