We may just be in the beginning of the third month of 2016, but sadly, we’ve already seen enough celebrity deaths. From David Bowie on January 10, to Alan Rickman and Rene Angelil on January 14. The cause of death? Cancer.
Cancer doesn’t just affect celebrities. Almost every one of us know someone who has lost his/her battle with cancer.
In 2012, there were over 37,400 cases of cancer and 21,700 cancer deaths in Malaysia, with one in four Malaysians expected to be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 75.
The National Cancer Society of Malaysia pointed out that Malaysians lack awareness and do not go for regular medical check-ups. By the time they are diagnosed, the disease has progressed to stage 3 or 4. At cancer stage 4, the survival rate is only 60%. Those who discover early have an 80% chance of survival.
In addition to the physical and emotional toll it takes on the patient, there is also significant financial risks that come with battling the disease. Cancer diagnosis at a later stage makes treatment more costly, less likely to succeed, and reduces chances of survival.
Cost of cancer treatment in Malaysia
According to Ministry of Health’s survey on cancer, the top five most common types of cancer in Malaysia are breast cancer, followed by colorectal, lung, cervical and nasopharyngeal. Here’s how much the treatment of each one of it can cost at a private hospital:
At public hospitals or under the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM), the charges for cancer treatment are 50% to 70% lower than private medical institutions.
According to the ASEAN Costs in Oncology (ACTION) study by Sydney-based George Institute for Global Health, 51% of Malaysian cancer patients suffer from “financial catastrophe” (where medical costs exceed 30% of household income) 12 months after they were diagnosed due to high treatment and medical spending. Patients face high out-of-pocket spending for cancer-related health services such as:
|Bone density tests
|RM75,000 per cycle
|RM50,000 per cycle
|Nuclear medicine imaging
|Breast prosthesis fittings
|RM1,100 per breast
|RM102,000 a year
These costs reflect the averages compiled from cancer patients who sought treatment from some of the well-known cancer private hospitals in the Klang Valley – mainly Sime Darby Medical Centre, Gleneagles Intan Medical Centre and Pantai Hospital.
With medical inflation in Malaysia estimated at 12% per annum, these cost would quickly add up to millions in just a matter of ten years.
The combination of late detection and treatment costs are the biggest economic concerns among the lower-income segment and under-insured. Health insurance is the most visible means of minimising the out-of-pocket costs of treatment, offsetting the risk of catastrophic expenditure owing to the illness and encouraging patients to comply with ongoing treatment.
Other hidden costs
Cancer is an expensive disease and the medical care required to combat it is only one part of the financial impact. There are also many unforeseen costs that can add up quickly, including:
1. Loss of income
Cancer treatment can be disabling and time-consuming because recovery time for surgery can be extensive while chemotherapy/radiotherapy is often administered for months. Patients often take a long time to recover from each rigorous treatment. During this period, many patients are unable to work full-time, or may even need a full-time carer, which is often a family member to take care of them.
With the loss of income for the patients and/or carer, many find themselves scrambling financially as the months go by, and dual-income families would have to make do with one income, indefinitely.
This can turn into a financial strain as there would be other financial commitments such as home loan, car loan or school fees to take care of. This would mean scrapping out their savings (if any) or tap into credit lines to cover these fixed monthly expenses. Some might even consider letting go some of their assets such as selling off their car or house at less than favourable prices.
The reality is an individual diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment would require extra care. More often than not, it is financially impractical for a family member to quit his/her job to take care of a cancer patient.
Therefore, hiring a domestic helper or even a trained, professional nurse would be essential to help them with their daily activities or accompanying the patient for medical appointments.
For domestic helpers, the initial costs can amount to RM12,000 with monthly costs of RM1,000. Private nursing costs can vary depending on the level of needs of the patient. It ranges from RM800, for those who just need basic care and attention, to RM5,000 for those that need constant medical attention.
3. Alternative treatments
It is common for cancer patients to take up complementary traditional or alternative therapies or treatment to help with recuperation and overall wellness. These therapies and treatments include traditional massages, acupuncture, and also psychological counselling, energy boosting supplements, physiotherapy, or alternative medications. This again can amount to at least RM1,000 a month.
Being aware of potential hidden costs early in the treatment process is the first step to taking control of the situation. A cancer diagnosis is scary enough. You don’t have to let monetary pressures affect your medical decisions. Thinking ahead about additional costs can alleviate some of the financial stress—so you can focus on getting well.
How much medical insurance is enough?
Cancer is the third leading cause of premature death in Malaysia. Many of those deaths could have been avoided if there were increased awareness on early detection and about strengthening financial protection. According to AIA’s findings, only 22% of Malaysians have critical illness insurance. This leaves a large segment of the population at risk of facing financial catastrophe if diagnosed with cancer.
Unless you have at least a million Ringgit lying around in the event of critical illnesses like cancer, your only other solution for healthcare protection is medical insurance. While people are generally encouraged to start protecting their health at an early age, it is never too late to start tending to your well-being.
When you purchase healthcare insurance for critical illness coverage, a good medical insurance in Malaysia will provide you with the following:
- Continuous and uninterrupted access to the medical care you need – local or overseas
- Cashless admission and quick access to medical care in a private hospital
- High medical protection limit – annual and lifetime
- Coverage of follow-up consultations and medication
If you were to compare health insurance plans in Malaysia, they typically offer a one-size-fits-all approach even though the incidences of certain diseases are much higher than others. The 36 critical illnesses plan is one such example.
Other than the typical health insurance in Malaysia, you can also take up a specific cancer plan such as the AIA’s A-Life Cancer360, Prudential’s PRUcancer or AXA Affin’s AXA 110 CancerCare. This is especially important for high-risk individuals (more about this later) who have higher chances of getting cancer. These cancer plans provide comprehensive protection against cancer such as:
- Diagnosis of early stage cancer: A lump sum payment of the amount covered upon diagnosis at early stage
- Diagnosis of advanced stage of cancer: A higher (100% or higher of sum assured) compensation amount in a lump sum payment
- Enjoy continuous coverage with no waiting period between claims
- Upon death, family receives compassion benefit of a certain percentage of the sum assured or surrender value
- If you have made a claim for early stage cancer, your coverage returns to the full amount one year after your diagnosis
- You have easy admission to any panel hospital with your medical card. For example, simply present your AIA medical card to avoid the hassle of lengthy hospital admissions at any AIA panel hospitals.
These plans use cancer-based underwriting parameters that only takes into account a person’s risk relating to cancer rather than their entire medical history. Such targeted-need products also means that more Malaysians will have access to specific medical protection plans and enjoy best healthcare in Malaysia. But how much should your coverage be?
First, you need to assess your own risk to cancer. General risk factors for cancer include:
|You have a personal history of cancer, breast tissues are dense and have abnormal cells, and have high bone density.
|You have close relatives who’ve had cancer.
|Exposure to UV radiation or chemicals
|You have undergone radiation treatment, have prolonged exposure to direct sunlight and handle dangerous chemicals.
|You inherit certain mutations in genes.
|You have hormonal and reproductive issues.
|You indulge in unhealthy lifestyle that increase Estrogen levels such as:
• Usage of tobacco/alcohol
• Being overweight
• Lack of exercise
|Your risk of developing cancer increases as you grow older.
Knowing your risk factors and discussing them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices – and also take pre-emptive financial protection.
When searching for a good medical card in Malaysia, please look into the following criteria:-
- What is the maximum amount that you are eligible to claim for the whole tenure of the policy?
- What is the maximum age the policy covers?
- Does it cover cashless admission and accepted at most hospitals?
- Are there any co-insurance (the percentage of the medical bill that you need to pay out of your own pocket)?
- What is the maximum amount that you can claim annually?
- What are you being covered for in terms of room category, maximum number of days per stay, as well as pre and post diagnostics treatment claims?
The higher premium that you are willing to pay will give you better annual limit, room category and coverage. However, one should carefully evaluate and consider the details of the offering, choose a plan that best suited to own budget and provide sufficient basic coverage.
We always think that things like cancer will never happen to ourselves or to our immediate loved ones. But diseases do not discriminate, and it’s always better to have a plan, just in case.
Those who have been known to lead the healthiest of lifestyle could also fall prey to this unexpected, life-threatening disease.
Healthcare is a huge expenditure to plan for on top of normal living expenses as medical expenses are non-discretionary. If you are sick, you need treatment. Having adequate reserves and a good medical coverage can be the difference between a comfortable road to recovery and one filled with financial, physical and mental challenges.
Early detection saves lives and treatment costs is also considerably lower. Don’t wait till you are sick as medical insurance is only available to those who are in good health.
As such, it is important that we all take charge of our finances and be proactive with our health in order to enjoy better medical outcomes. Understanding the costs to expect before you even begin treatment can help you manage the financial impact more effectively.