Kiwis confronting rising cancer rates and treatment costs

22 March 2016

“The greatest risk in life is to wait for and depend on others for your security” - Dennis Waitley.

Living down here at the bottom of the world in New Zealand, we as a nation pride ourselves on our ‘self reliance’, our ‘resourcefulness’ and ‘independence’, yet a glance at the news headlines shows that too many Kiwis still rely on Government to bail us out when things go wrong.

Some resourceful people have resorted to crowdfunding or GiveaLittle to raise money for cancer treatments. According to some media statistics, more than 650 Kiwis lodged appeals in 2015, which is effectively depending on the kindness of strangers for help. Moving into 2016, more and more New Zealanders are discovering that just staying alive can come down to how much money you have. However, with a bit of pre-planning you don’t actually need a lot.

The State will pick up the bill

The reality is that headlines like ‘Life-saving drug treatment 'low priority' with too little data - Pharmac’ and ‘Cancer patients to petition for Pharmac funding’ are symptoms of a problem that could be solved for as little as the monthly cost of a Sky TV subscription.

Treating cancer, and surviving cancer – or other dread diseases – comes at a price and the New Zealand Government does not have bottomless coffers. Our state health system – as world class as it is – has only so many resources. That’s why we have waiting lists.

It’s risky to depend on Government, over which you have no control, to swoop in and save you at the last minute.

The cost of treatment that could increase chances of survival can also be hundreds of thousands of dollars and is simply unaffordable for a large majority of New Zealanders. The number of people turning to crowd-funding sites like Givealittle is increasing as a result, as is relying on the generosity of friends, family and strangers to fund treatment.

It won’t happen to me

Another common misconception – called optimism bias by psychologists – is to believe that cancer or some other dread disease won’t happen to us personally. Not only is this misguided thinking, it’s potentially dangerous.

The number of people with cancer continues to rise. Between 2000 and 2010 the number of cancer registrations increased by 18.6% (Cancer: New Registrations and deaths 2010, Ministry of Health. Wellington: Ministry of Health). 

Cancer is the leading cause of death in New Zealand for both males and females in 2011, accounting for nearly a third of all deaths (29.4%) according to the latest Mortality and Demographic Data 2012 (Ministry of Health, updated Aug 2015).

In 2015, Cancer made up 64% of Trauma claims received by AMP.

NZ and Australia has the highest rates of melanoma in the world, and it is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in NZ. The chance of developing melanoma increases with age and, although melanomas are found in people aged 50 years or older, melanoma is reasonably common in younger age groups (especially people aged 25–39 years) (Ministry of Health 2011). Being young doesn’t mean you’re immune from cancer.

Surviving into a world of debt

Cancer is costly. It not only kills, it leaves lives in tatters and can take a toll on your finances. Some survivors are unable to pay the bills while they’re off work, or find themselves loaded down with crushing medical debt, depleted retirement savings and even confronting medical bankruptcy.

Yet, according to a study carried out by Massey University*, 95 per cent of us would rather insure our cars and homes, than put in place a low cost insurance policy – only 20% of New Zealanders have income protection.

The NZ public health system provides quality emergency care and treatment, however rising health care costs put pressure on the public system and some New Zealanders have taken steps to get private health insurance, but even the best health insurance plans won’t cover all the costs. It’s important to know exactly what medical costs you’re covered for in the event of cancer or other serious illnesses and consider other options that could cover some of that shortfall.

Trauma cover could be one of those options. It’s designed to provide an agreed lump sum that you can use any way you like if you’re diagnosed with a specified major illness or injury – or if you undergo a specified major surgical procedure – and live for any prescribed survival period. Up to 43 medical conditions and procedures, including some forms of cancer, are covered.

You have to ask yourself: “What's the cost of a trauma policy for $150,000 or $250,000 if it’s going to give me extra financial support to seek the treatment I need, if I get a cancer that the policy covers? Or to pay the daily bills when I can't work?” You may as well also ask ‘what is the cost of your self-reliance?’

Putting in place some protection can help mitigate some of the downstream consequences of lack of Government funding and waiting lists. Trauma cover of $150,000 can cost less than $25 a month for people in their mid-twenties (non-smokers), or around $50 a month for those in their mid-thirties (non-smokers), depending on their health status at the time they take their cover out.

Self-reliance puts you on the front foot

Bear in mind that the rapid advancement in cancer treatments and drugs means that the latest medicine is not always available in NZ or funded by Pharmac.


Where a lump sum payment is received under a Trauma policy, this can provide greater options, such as seeking treatment overseas and exploring treatment from drugs with high success rates.

Health Insurance policies typically limit cover for non-Pharmac drugs, so it's prudent for people to ensure that they know how much is covered by their health policy and combine it with Trauma cover to help reduce the scope for shortfalls.

Where a lump sum payment is received under a Trauma policy, this can also help with ongoing medical expenses that aren’t covered by health insurance plans. The money can also cover lost income and the cost of ongoing bills if you are unable to work. It can spare people from needing to drain their savings, sell assets or be forced into fundraising to get access to treatment.

There can sometimes be a negative stigma around Trauma Insurance, however having this type of cover in place, can give you the financial assistance you need so that you can focus on your recovery and spend more time with loved ones.

16th century philosopher Baltasar Gracián said it best: “We often have to put up with most from those on whom we most depend”. Don’t be caught out by dependence on Government funding - over which you have no control - when for a low monthly spend you may be able to afford to treat your dread disease, pay off your bills and get on with recovering or spending valuable time with your family.


Exploring underinsurance within New Zealand, by Massey University.

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The information on this site is of a general nature only and is not financial advice. If you would like advice that takes into account your particular financial situation or goals, please contact AMP or your Adviser.