The frightening facts you need to know about stroke

Strategies

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Make sure your clients and their loved ones won't have to worry about how they'll pay the bills following a stroke

Few people in the market for life insurance are oblivious to the risks of having a heart attack or getting cancer. But there are plenty who haven't considered the possibility they could have a stroke. Which is unfortunate given how common and disruptive they are.

Stroke statistics1

  • one in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime
  • strokes kill more men than prostate cancer and more women than breast cancer
  • a 2004 WHO study named stroke as the second leading cause of death in the Western world
  • around 1,000 Australians have a stroke every week
  • there are 440,000 stroke survivors living in Australia; over the next three decades that number is predicted to climb to 1 million
  • strokes cost the Australian economy $5 billion a year, mainly through lost productivity
  • the average cost of a stroke is $129,199 (based on the most recent figures). Almost all of that cost is borne by the stroke sufferer.

A six-figure setback

Suffering a stroke can be catastrophic for those in any age group. But the financial impact can be especially devastating for those of working age. These are people who are typically paying off a mortgage and raising children and don't necessarily have a large pool of capital.

"I see a significant amount of strokes coming through our claims area for those in the 35-50 age group. That isn't surprising given that 30 per cent of stroke survivors are under the age of 65."

Not only do stroke sufferers and their families need to continue paying for their standard outgoings, such as groceries, school fees and utility bills; they also need to finance a range of new expenses related to stroke symptoms. These can include charges for speech, exercise and thrombolytic therapy, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, occupational therapy, dietary advice, medications and surgeries.

Strokes don't just strike senior citizens

"The perception is that strokes are an old person's disease. That they're something that happens to your granny, not to a vibrant forty-something," notes Dr Sally Phillips, Macquarie's Head of Underwriting, Claims & Insurance Proposition.

"Of course, that's not the case. The three biggest causes of claim are cancer, heart attack and stroke. It varies which one comes in at number one, depending on what type of benefit is being paid out, but those are the big three. I see a significant amount of strokes coming through our claims area for those in the 35-50 age group. That isn't surprising given that 30 per cent of stroke survivors are under the age of 65. Those who survive a heart attack or cancer can usually return to their jobs. But strokes, more often than not, permanently affect mobility and cognitive processes. Stroke symptoms can make it difficult for sufferers to resume their careers.

National Stroke Foundation CEO Dr Erin Lalor makes similar points."Stroke does not discriminate, it impacts people of all ages," she says. "It is one of this country's biggest killers and a leading cause of disability. Every stroke causes damage to individuals and their families. Two thirds of survivors suffer a disability, which often cuts a career immediately short. Many who do return to work find they have greatly reduced capacity. And when a family has no choice but for a spouse to assume the role of carer, then the financial impact is amplified dramatically."

Risk factors

While certain groups are at higher risk – the elderly, males, diabetics and those with a family history of stroke or heart diseases – anyone can have a stroke at any time. Although it's possible to reduce your chances of having a stroke by looking after your health, there is still a risk of having a stroke.

In short, it's impossible to guarantee someone won't have a stroke. But it is possible to make sure your clients and their loved ones won't have to worry about how they'll pay the bills following a stroke.

There are two hard truths you'll need to relay when discussing life insurance options with your clients. First, it will be difficult or prohibitively expensive to take out life insurance – even for many non-stroke-related conditions – after suffering a stroke. 40 per cent of stroke survivors have a second stroke within five years2 but Australian insurers generally only cover the initial stroke.

The difference insurance makes

Sam and Erin Benjamin

"We made sure we had plenty of life insurance while we were still in our twenties," says Sam Benjamin. "I guess that's unusual but we both worked in the financial services industry and were a little more conscious of the risks. That said, we figured we'd lock in cheap premiums while we were young in case we got cancer or heart disease 30 years down the track. My wife never imagined she’d be needing her $500,000 trauma insurance and $5,000 a month income protection insurance so soon after taking it out."

For reasons that are still unclear, the fit and healthy 30-year-old Erin Benjamin had a stroke following a morning workout. Though she's since recovered enough to have two children and resume a relatively normal life, Erin fatigues easily. She is unlikely ever to re-join the workforce.

Sam is now evangelical about personal insurance. "In terms of out of pocket costs the stroke itself cost $70,000. Plus, it's been $10,000 a year since then paying for GPs, psychologists, neuropsychologists and haematologists. If we weren't insured we wouldn't have been able to buy a house and start a family. I'd need to work around 80 hours a week just to keep our heads above water," says Sam.

"People baulk at the cost of life insurance but think nothing of buying lottery tickets. You can spend $22 a week buying a Powerball ticket where there's a one in seven million chance of winning. Or you can put that money towards insurance. People of all ages need insurance; Erin and I are living proof of that."

Ross and Julie Collins

Ross Collins was in reasonably good shape for a 63-year-old back in 2012. Running his indoor sports centre and raising his teenage daughter with his wife Julie was keeping him busy. Then everything fell apart in a matter of hours.

"Ross had a severe stroke," explains Julie Collins. "It was immediately clear he wasn't going to be able to go back to work or even return to the family home. I had to give up my teaching career just as it was about to peak to care for Ross full time."

The Collins had private health insurance. But self-employed Ross wasn't contributing to a super fund. And he hadn't taken out any life insurance. "The business soon went into liquidation," Julie says. "There was a mortgage, a business loan and some credit card debt that needed to be paid off. It was stressful trying to look after my husband while dealing with solicitors, real estate agents and his employees. I did finally manage to sell the family home and access some of my super. That meant we could buy a modest (modified for wheelchair access) house on the outskirts of the city."

Ross gets the disability pension and Julie the carer allowance but, three years on, money remains tight. "We continue to live fortnight to fortnight," says Julie. "I just wish we'd taken the time to reflect on what could go wrong and been properly insured. We never thought this would happen to us."

The National Stroke Foundation is dedicated to raising awareness, facilitating research and making life better for stroke survivors. If you'd like to support its good work you can register your workplace for First Hour. Given stroke sufferers should ideally get medical attention within sixty minutes of the signs of a stroke becoming noticeable, this campaign encourages Australians to gift one hour's wages to help fund stroke awareness education and health checks. For more information on stroke and to register for First Hour, visit strokefoundation.com.au.

 

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