Liberty’s claim statistics for 2022 indicate an increase in cancer claims as well as claims related to mental health issues. The statistics reveal concerning trends about South Africans’ health, as well as their state of mind.
While death claims have fallen significantly since 2021, when the Covid-19 Delta variant claimed the lives of so many, other claim types are on the rise, specifically those related to stress and cancer.
Claims paid due to death decreased by 38% compared to 2021, however, claims for critical illness and lump-sum income protection rose by 13%. The main driver of these has been cancer claims. Liberty has also seen a rise in claims for mental illness, including depression.
Increase in cancer claims
Cancer was the leading cause of claims for both males and females. According to Liberty, cancer made up 28.8% of claims attributed to a claim cause. This was followed by cardiovascular diseases and disorders at 22.4%, respiratory disorders at 11.9%, strokes at 6.5%, and renal disorders at 5.9%.
Dr Dominique Stott, Liberty’s Chief Medical Officer says the increase in cancer claims can be attributed to a reduction in preventative screening taking place during 2020 and 2021 as a result of the pandemic. Liberty is paying out larger claim values for critical illness as people are only identifying cancer in later stages.
Research by Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) found that general health checks were down 50% at the peak of the pandemic compared to pre-Covid levels. This was obviously due to the Covid lockdown. As a result, they have seen an increase in chronic illness and deaths from diseases such as cancer.
An analysis of ‘Initial Cancer Diagnosis’ and ‘Cancer Co-payment’ gap claims paid by Sirago Underwriting Managers over 24 months from 2021 and 2022 shows that claims for cancer increased by 281% combined, compared with the same period in 2019-2020.
The number of initial cancer diagnosis claims increased by a massive 631% in 2021/22 compared with 2019/20.
“It shows just how massively prevalent cancer is in our society and lifestyles, especially when you consider that the dramatic increase of 601% relates only to first-time diagnosis of malignant cancer in the last two years”, says Martin Rimmer, CEO of Sirago.
Lack of preventative healthcare
Sirago shares the view that a lack of preventative healthcare is the driving cause of higher claims.
“The early diagnoses of chronic diseases, like cancer, simply collapsed. Preventative, annual health checks by South Africans took a long time to recover after the pandemic, and in fact are still not at pre-pandemic levels as expected,” says Rimmer.
A lack of affordability and “buying-down” in medical-scheme benefits by consumers is also playing a big role in gap cover claims.
“These trends are worrying in the sense that many of these cancer diagnoses are likely to be at much later stages of detection and this has a profound impact for patients in terms of the success and cost of their treatment.
“Many consumers have been forced to buy down on their medical scheme benefits to ‘core-plans’, which in turn means access to potentially lower benefits and thus exposure to possibly more self-funding of their healthcare treatment to come from their own pockets,” explains Rimmer.
The mental health impact of the pandemic continues to be reflected through the mental health claims, according to Liberty.
The good news is that suicide claims have reduced since 2021, but claims for mental illness have increased in the income protection category. These relate to claims made by individuals who were unable to work for a short period due to mental illness and needed to claim from their income cover.
In 2022 mental illness claims made up 9.2% of loss-of-income claims compared to 6.7% of claims in 2021. Suicide claims make up half of the claims attributed to mental health while depression and anxiety are at 16% of total claims related to mental health.
Income protection claims for musculoskeletal disorders have also increased, making up 20.6% of income protection claims. While this is a physical ailment, musculoskeletal issues like back problems are often related to stress.
“While we are seeing a considerable reduction in Covid-19 cases, the long-term effects of the pandemic will remain with us for a while and this inevitably includes mental health issues,” says Dr Stott. At a press conference Stott added that loadshedding could also be a contributing factor to mental illness claims. “Loadshedding has had in impact on the economy, it has impacted businesses and employment,” says Stott.
As businesses are forced to pay hundreds of thousands of rands for diesel to keep the lights on, there is not enough money to provide salary increases and many companies are resorting to retrenchments.
This is putting considerable financial stress on households. And then there is the mental stress of loadshedding itself which includes traffic congestion and enormous costs to households.
As the economy struggles to recover with continuous loadshedding, South Africans will continue to experience high stress. Dr Stott says that the insurer has seen a further increase in mental disorder claims in 2023 and that the trend will no doubt increase further in 2024.
This article first appeared in City Press.