It’s the unthinkable and the worst-case scenario for many. Cancer is New Zealand’s biggest killer. states the “Ministry of Health data found the disease accounted for nearly one-third of all deaths recorded in 2015. Of the 31,796 deaths that year, cancer accounted for 9,615 of those”, and the disease disproportionately kills men.

Given the statistics, we’d all like to imagine New Zealand has access to the best drugs. While we do have access to a great number of treatments, we can’t rely on Pharmac – the Government’s drug agency –  to provide access to all promising new drugs (even if they are readily available elsewhere in the world).

Stuff has claimed “Pharmac takes on average three years to review an application for a brand-new cancer drug, and that means that Kiwis are missing out…other countries like Australia, and Canada, and the UK, do manage to have a system that can facilitate a mix.”.

According to Pharmac’s website, there is a logic behind the lengthy approval process – “Overseas experience has shown that cancer medicines approved based on early signs of promise rarely deliver on that. In the US a study of 36 cancer drugs approved by the FDA between 2008 and 2012, on the basis of surrogate outcome measures, found that by 2014 only 5 were shown to improve overall survival. Analysis of European Medicines Agency approvals for cancer drugs between 2009-13 showed most entered the market without evidence of benefit or survival gain. More than three years afterwards, there was still no conclusive evidence that lives were extended or improved for most cancer indications, and when they did, these were often marginal.”

For some patients though, they feel they have no choice but to seek out alternative treatment currently not funded by Pharmac. But can someone going through a significant life event like cancer afford to look elsewhere when they’re not being given the treatment they feel they need?

The knock-on effect of something like cancer can be overwhelming financially. There can be heavy financial burdens as well as commitment implications for an individual, family or business. In 2017, Southern Cross – one of NZ’s leading not-for-profit health insurance providers launched a new form of health insurance cover called Cancer Assist. Cancer Assist is an add-on that policyholders can choose as an extra to their existing cover to “insure against the risk of contracting a cancer best treated using drugs not yet funded by Pharmac”.

The point of such a cover is to assist when the unthinkable and worst-case scenario plays out for real.

Cancer Assist is designed to support claimants by providing a cushion so that scenarios that might otherwise cause a financial strain, anxiety and stress at an already tense time are hopefully reduced.

Southern Cross says their particular policy helps to support:

  • Additional treatments – paying for additional or alternative treatments that may not be covered by the public system or health insurance. These could include new treatment options or non-Pharmac approved drugs.
  • Taking time off – taking the pressure off needing to work or reducing your work hours.
  • Staying on top of bills – helping with household expenses like mortgage payments or rent and credit card payments.
  • Treatment travel costs – covering flight or petrol costs if you need to travel for treatment.
  • Childcare and home help – making sure the kids are well cared for while you are having treatment, or arranging extra help around the home.
  • Overseas travel – taking a holiday to relax or visiting loved ones overseas.

“Insurers are really starting to look at this area and there are an increasing number of solutions being introduced to the market to cater for various situations. Some policies can pay a lump sum where others have an ongoing benefit to capture these costs over time or for reoccurring conditions. This is something we determine when we talk with our clients and look to see if their current health policy covers this or if we need to look at options over and above.”  – James Polson, AdviceFirst Client Adviser, Christchurch

We don’t have a crystal ball, but if you’re interested in discussing how Cancer Assist or an alternative cover could work for you, then let’s talk. Our Advisers are here to discuss the best options for you and your circumstances.

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AdviceFirst is a Financial Advice Provider (FSP23242).