The cost of cancer in NSW has been calculated for the first time, with a new report commissioned by The Cancer Council NSW showing patients pay an average of $8,900 in out-of-pocket expenses.
“This report paints a grim picture of the financial burden of cancer. We know that people have to face enormous challenges physically and psychologically when they're diagnosed with cancer, but we've now got a clear sense of how much financial support they need,” said Gillian Batt, Director of Cancer Information and Support Services at The Cancer Council NSW.
The report, conducted by Access Economics, found that prostate cancer and breast cancer are more expensive to patients mainly due to ongoing medication and treatment, while bowel cancer and lung cancer are more expensive to the economy as a whole.
“The costs are really variable, depending on the type of cancer and the individual's circumstance. For example, a young woman with breast cancer could be faced with $40,300 in lost productivity and out-of-pocket expenses, as she may need ongoing drugs on prescription and things like lymphodema sleeves and breast prostheses. A pensioner with bowel cancer would be facing costs of approximately $10,000 on average, even though a lot of his treatment will occur at hospital,” she said.
The report found that the average lifetime financial cost of cancer on a household in NSW equates to 1.7 years of annual household income.
“To ease the load for families who are really struggling, we now give grants to patients via social workers and are also awarding money to community groups to roll out cancer control initiatives on a local level.”
According to the report, in 2005 at least $2.5 million was spent on providing accommodation to people with cancer by non-profit organisations in NSW.
“The costs of travel and accommodation can be prohibitive for patients, particularly when you consider many have to endure long courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy far from their home. We're now directing more money into transport for patients to get to treatment, funding services in Gloucester, Port Stephens and the Southern Highlands.
“It does help that, after years of lobbying, the government expanded the assistance available through IPTAAS so now 11,000 additional patients get assistance to travel to treatment. However, this report shows that more needs to be done,” she said.
“As the incidence of cancer increases with the ageing of the population, we will need a greater focus on addressing the hidden costs of cancer that patients have to bear,” said Ms Batt.
While nobody knows exactly how big the underinsurance gap is in Australia, the findings of two new research projects by the Investment and Financial Services Association (IFSA) offer some insights.
The two projects, which focused specifically on income protection and life insurance, were the first of various research projects planned by IFSA’s Protection Gap Working Group as part of its brief to investigate the underinsurance issue.
The ‘Life Insurance Protection Gap – Families with Children’ and ‘Income Protection Gap – Self-employed and Small Business Owners’ studies were conducted by Rice Walker Actuaries in 2005 and 2006 respectively.
The upshot of the life insurance research was that there was a “huge underinsurance gap” in this segment, according to Protection Gap Working Group member Gerard Kerr, also Asteron’s senior risk product manager.
“A broad estimate of the underinsurance gap for parents in Australia with dependent children is in the order of $1.37 billion,” he said.
“While these families should have had roughly 10 times their annual salary in terms of life cover, it was found that the vast majority of them didn’t even have enough cover to last one year.”
For those families with average levels of superannuation death cover only, he added, their cover held was found to represent less than 20 per cent of average needs.”
Kerr said the income protection research found the total income generated by all working Australians was about $441 billion.
“If you assume 75 per cent is the maximum you would cover for that category you would come up with a figure of $330 billion.
So in an ideal world the cover needed is $330 billion, but the research found the gap to be $265 billion.
Kerr added that the income protection project found that 98 per cent of respondents were aware of the key insurance types available to cover death or adversity.“However, 69 per cent of people in small business did not have income protection at all, and just 25 per cent could maintain their lifestyle for more than six months if they suffered serious illness or disablement.”
A “major surprise” of the research was the finding that 47 per cent of the small business people surveyed were completely unaware that income protection is tax deductible, he added.
“Clearly, we as the Protection Gap Working Group have more work to do as an industry in assisting small business to understand how they can mitigate risk to income.”
With a business and family relying on them, small business owners have a lot to protect. But statistics show many are playing a risky business when it comes to their insurance cover.
According to a 2006 survey by the Investment and Financial Services Association (IFSA), less than half of small business owners feel they have adequate insurance cover .
So if they know they’re not properly covered, why aren’t they doing something about it?
Craig Burling from Lea Life Brokers Pty Ltd says part of the reason is the fact insurance is often not well understood.
“One of the biggest objections I hear about insurance is that it’s too expensive. But many of my new clients didn’t know some insurance premiums were tax-deductible”.
Two types of cover that are usually tax-deductible are income protection and business expenses insurance. Together these make a good package for the business owner according to Mr Burling.
“Income protection can cover up to 75% of their personal income, and business expenses insurance can take care of their fixed costs like rent and electricity. So by combining these two types of policies, the business owner can cover both their personal, and work expenses. And potentially reduce their tax bill.”
Mr Burling urges all small business owners to review their insurance needs regularly with their financial adviser.
“Your cover has to keep up with your growing business – not to mention your family. There’s no point putting it off until it’s too late.”
The gap between men and women is closing in most facets of life. But it seems there’s one area females still have some catching up to do – protecting themselves with insurance.
That’s the view of Craig Burling from Lea Life Brokers Pty Ltd, who believes the problem lies in the historical notion of the male being the primary breadwinner.
“There was a time when you only took out insurance on the husband. But not only does this ignore the value of what women do – both at work and at home – it doesn’t reflect the changing nature of the Australian family.”
Women now earn 92% of male salaries . And despite making up 45% of the workforce, females represent only 15-20% of all insured incomes .
“The lack of insurance for women doesn’t make sense – particularly when you consider how much more vulnerable women often are financially, Mr Burling says.
This vulnerability stems from less time in the workforce, with women often assuming the role of primary carer of children and/or elderly relatives.
As a result women typically have less savings, and less superannuation than men. And considering women will statistically live longer, they can ill-afford extra setbacks.
“Add illness or injury to the mix, and women can find it incredibly hard to recover financially if something happens to them,” says Mr Burling. “That’s where insurance can be so valuable.”
Mr Burling urges all women, particularly those with a family and/or a mortgage, to review their insurance needs regularly with their financial adviser.
“Your cover has to keep up with your changing circumstances. There’s no point putting it off until it’s too late.”