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Look closely at your critical illness policy… small print could save your life

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Invaluable: A free second opinion diagnosed Dave Marcus’s cancer 

This month has been Lung Cancer Awareness Month – when a number of leading charities such as Macmillan and Cancer Research UK run campaigns to raise awareness among the public about the symptoms and causes of lung cancer. 

This type of cancer is particularly evil, killing more than 35,000 people in the UK every year – with only 40 per cent of those diagnosed surviving longer than a year. 

This time next week, Dave Marcus will be celebrating the fact that he is among the 60 per cent who have survived for longer. On December 4 last year, he had half a lung removed shortly after being diagnosed with the cancer. Dave has been a life-long non-smoker. 

But, as Dave freely admits, he is a lucky individual because if he hadn’t bought a financial protection policy 15 years ago, he might not be around today to tell his tale. 

Although financial protection policies come in many forms, they all tend to pay out if a policyholder suffers a serious illness and then survives. Most claims result from cancer, heart attacks or strokes. 

While Dave’s policy with insurer AIG did exactly this, the tax-free payment he received was almost immaterial. It’s the fact that the plan, a critical illness policy, provided an additional benefit which mattered. It enabled him to seek a second medical opinion that resulted in the diagnosis of lung cancer. 

Without it, he’s unsure when his cancer would have been detected: his local surgery and the NHS 111 service were convinced he had a chest infection. 

As Cancer Research UK points out as part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, the earlier a cancer is spotted, the greater the chance of treatment being successful. 

Additional benefits – nearly all, free – are now part and parcel of most financial protection policies. They embrace a range of services – everything from counselling to physiotherapy and in some cases free annual health MOTs. 

Yet, not all customers are aware of them, especially if they bought a policy direct from an insurer rather than through a financial adviser. 

Alan Lakey is a director of the critical illness comparison website CIExpert. He says that in many cases such benefits do not feature in the brochures or key facts documents customers receive from insurers. As a result, he says most customers are ‘unaware’ of them. 

Another expert, who did not wish to be named, said there was a ‘cynical reason’ why such additional benefits do not get highlighted – and that is cost. Although free to customers, each time the benefit is used, the insurer must pay a fee to the provider of the service. So the temptation for insurers is to keep them very much under wraps. 

AIG has begun sending out annual statements to its protection customers that highlight the free-to-use extras available under their plans – as has Zurich. But this transparent approach is the exception, not the norm. 

Roy McLoughlin, associate director of London-based wealth management firm Cavendish Ware, says: ‘It does not seem right that some financial services companies will provide customers with annual statements about the progress of their pension or Individual Savings Account. But not one about their protection policy. I find that crazy and unacceptable.’ 

Emma Thomson, head of protection at financial adviser network Sesame Bankhall, agrees: ‘The industry should be reminding customers on a regular basis of the important benefits that lie under the bonnet of their insurance – cover that they are paying for on a monthly basis. If they did this, it would send out a signal that they really care about their customers.’ 

Dave Marcus knew about the ‘second medical option’ available under his AIG policy because he works as a client director for Teladoc Health, a firm that specialises in providing the kind of phone-based health services that protection insurers offer as additional benefits. But it doesn’t detract from his story. 

Dave, aged 55, now lives in Knutsford, Cheshire with partner Emelie. Early last year, while living in London, he had a serious cough and phoned NHS 111 for advice.

He was told to take a Covid test, which proved negative. He then got a chest infection – and was prescribed antibiotics. Though he would occasionally feel better, the cough never quite went away, often resulting in near-sleepless nights. 

His local surgery said that chest infections took a long time to clear. 

At no stage did he think it was anything sinister like lung cancer. 

It was Emelie, herself recovering from major surgery, who suggested he seek a second medical opinion via his AIG policy. He did so, and was told to have a chest X-ray. 

Seeing a respiratory consultant in London, his world ‘was turned upside down’. 

He says: ‘I was told I had a 7.8 centimetre-long tumour in my left lung. Unless it was removed quickly, the consultant said it would grow too big to get out.’ In December last year, with a 10 per cent chance of Dave not surviving surgery, the tumour (now more than 8cm long) was removed.

As I was ready to go into surgery,’ says Dave, ‘I asked the anaesthetist whether he remembered a young Swedish lady [his partner] who had undergone major surgery at the same hospital seven months earlier. He did. It comforted me.’ Nearly a year on, Dave is feeling good, though he accepts that there is a 65 per cent chance of the cancer returning. He’s back at work, albeit doing half days only. The £149,000 p

ayout from the AIG policy helped him to buy the Knutsford home he now lives in with Emelie. 

The money proved more than handy, and he urges people not to cancel policies even as their household finances come under extreme pressure. 

Yet this is not the only point he wants to make. He says: ‘I don’t see the extra benefits these policies provide as ‘added value’ services. 

As happened to me, they can prove to be life-saving benefits. So, if you’ve got a policy, check it out and see what it offers besides paying out on a serious illness claim.’ As for anyone suffering a persistent cough or a chest infection, he urges them to get it checked out. 

Visit macmillan.org.uk or cancerresearchuk.org and, for more on the effect of asbestos, a major cause of lung cancer, see ukata.org.uk. 

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