We all have a role to play in improving healthcare for more people

Rising life expectancy should of course be celebrated as a great success for humanity, however, it also comes with new challenges in supporting more people to take better care of their own health, with our aspiration to let the ageing population live a longer, better and healthier life.

While much has been accomplished to free the world of deadly diseases in recent decades, such as polio and smallpox, the prevalence of cancer and other chronic conditions still cast a long shadow in the society, touching one in every three individuals in their lifetime.

Having long induced fear in many, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and the cause of an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, approximately 18.1 million new cases were reported in 2018, of which half of them occurred in Asia — home to nearly 60% of the global population. The number of new cases per year is expected to rise to more than 23 million by 2030. All of us have cells that can one day become cancerous due to mutations and various known and unknown risk factors. Therefore, in theory, no single person is immune from cancer, as well as unexpected, out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. How can we protect more consumers from health threats without suffering from financial hardship?

From reducing financial stress to offering holistic healthcare support

Although insurance cannot compensate for the physical or mental suffering cancer inflicts, it can reduce the financial stress associated with it, from the cost of treatment to necessary lifestyle changes. It can also help ease the road after recovery as survivors find their way back to work with a sense of normalcy. Besides suffering from physical illness, often times cancer patients need to deal with a wide range of intense emotions and stress since the diagnosis of their conditions, through to their treatment and recovery stages.

Conventional health insurance has been designed as a reactive financial protection means to compensate consumers upon diagnosis or treatment of certain health conditions. However, as treatments continue to improve, more people are now living with or recovering from cancer. The role of insurance is progressively expanding to provide a more holistic partnership approach that enables customers to be more resilient on their healthcare journeys, from prevention and disease management through to treatment, rehabilitation and recovery.

In Australia, Swiss Re launched an insurance solution to support cancer patients to transition from treatment recovery through to wellness and work readiness. The programme invites employers to offer flexible 'return to work' arrangements, where cancer survivors resume their jobs with working hours appropriating to their health conditions. The solution also provides expert advice to minimise the symptoms associated with cancer recovery, including fatigue, “chemo fog”, deconditioning and sometimes depression and anxiety.

The role of insurance in preventive wellness

While we are familiar with the idea of "prevention is better than cure", how can we put this belief to work as an industry together?  As a reinsurer with global risk knowledge, Swiss Re has been turning its risk knowledge into practice through close collaboration with partners in technology and healthcare service sectors. Vibrant technological developments and steady consumer adoption of wearable devices provide an encouraging environment for insurers to create a more holistic and personalised health and wellness experience.

Insurers are now more ready to partner with customers in supporting, advising and protecting them throughout various stages of their healthcare journeys.  With more consumers taking active steps to monitor, detect, manage and continually improve their health, we are winning some battles over the "War on Cancer" when 30-50% of cancer deaths could be prevented with early diagnosis, screening and treatment.

Last year, Swiss Re partnered with an insurer in Thailand to develop an insurance solution integrated with dynamic pricing and personalised disease management programme for Type 2 diabetics in the country. Customers achieving better health outcomes are rewarded with premium adjustments to reflect the healthier dietary and lifestyle changes they have made over time, where diabetics can now have access to more affordable and customised healthcare. The project experience and consumer insights derived from this innovative diabetes solution are invaluable for Swiss Re and the insurance industry to further transform the role of insurers as we embark on the healthcare journeys with more customers together.

Enabling positive lives

On this year’s World Cancer Day, a three-year campaign themed “I am and I will” was launched by WHO to raise public awareness about cancer and how to prevent the disease through regular body check and healthy lifestyle, as well as by quitting smoking. The campaign also urges government officials to make cancer issue a priority.

Since the "war on cancer" was launched in 1971, the world has definitely won some battles, but not yet the war. The insurance industry needs to actively reflect on our roles and join forces with healthcare service providers and public policy makers to enable more consumers having access to quality health services where and when they need them. 

Following our recent conversation with Insurance Business Asia, you can also read more on our story here.  You may also be interested in another blog The cancer conversation insurers need to have by Paul Murray, Head of Life & Health Products.