The English physician Thomas Fuller once wrote: “Health is not valued till sickness comes."
And that, perhaps, is the problem for those promoting critical illness cover. People often don’t see the value in protection until it’s too late.
The case for critical illness should be compelling.
It’s a hard fact that more than half of us will get some form of cancer in our lives; about seven million people, meanwhile, have a heart and circulatory disease, with 545 each day rushed to hospital with a heart attack.
In the 1960s, more than seven out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal. Today, at least seven out of 10 people survive.
In addition to the human cost, these events have a dramatic impact on household finances. Most families are heavily reliant on the main breadwinner.
Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI) research for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) shows that more than 60 per cent of working families would lose over a third of their income if the main earner had to stop work, and four in 10 would see their income drop more than half.
They have little to fall back on. About a quarter (23 per cent) don’t save any of their monthly pay, according to Legal and General Intermediary's 'Deadline to Breadline' survey.
This shows the average employee and his or her household could survive just 32 days on their savings, and more than a quarter, or 26 per cent, said their savings would last just one week or less.
And that probably understates the problems people face if a serious illness strikes. Few really think about the costs of illness.
But the charity Macmillan has shown that not only do cancer sufferers, on average, lose £860 a month in earnings because they are unable to work or have to reduce their hours, but most see their monthly expenses shoot up.
Patients are an average £270 out of pocket each month from travel costs for appointments, hospital parking, increased heating bills and over-the-counter or prescription medicines.
The benefit of having critical illness cover in place to provide a lump sum in such circumstances is therefore obvious.
It should be compelling. But it’s not – or at least not compelling enough to encourage sales of the insurance commensurate with the risk.
As with income protection and, to a lesser extent, life cover, uptake remains limited.
Myths and maths
Much of this is down to misconceptions on the part of the public.
Research shows that households overestimate how long their savings would last – by more than double. Many simply haven’t done the maths.
Others are too optimistic about the amount of government help they’d receive. In fact, welfare benefits range from only around £70 a week to just over £100 a week.