Feat: A chronic issue?

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Dr Ulrike Sucher looks at the growing problem of chronic conditions and explains how international health insurers are providing clients with more options.

Historically, when it came to underwriting individuals and small groups, the international health insurance industry has not tended to provide cover for chronic/pre-existing conditions. Until recently, the policies available would have either excluded cover for these conditions or only provided cover after a waiting period, if cover was offered at all.

But, what is a chronic condition? The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a chronic disease as one of long duration and generally slow progression, such as heart disease, recurring respiratory diseases or diabetes.

A chronic condition is recurrent in nature, requires prolonged supervision and monitoring, and while there is usually no actual cure, the condition can usually be controlled with treatment.

It is the long term nature of chronic conditions which means that when a person takes out a health insurance policy, they may well already have a chronic condition, hence the term ‘pre-existing condition' and the reason that the terms chronic and pre-existing are seen together so often in this market.

On the rise

Chronic conditions have a very significant impact on the medical industry each year. According to the WHO, these conditions are the leading cause of mortality in the world, causing 63% of all deaths. Plus, the number of people with chronic conditions is on the increase.

Global life expectancy is on the rise and many chronic conditions, such as arthrosis and neurological disorders like Parkinson's, are more prevalent as people get older. At some point within the next 50 years, the number of people aged 60 plus will overtake the number of children for the first time in human history.

Governments are unlikely to be able to fund healthcare for an aging population and many are already moving towards controlled private sector involvement in healthcare delivery and financing.

Plus, with advances in medical practices and treatments, the line between chronic and acute conditions is blurred. Cancer, for example, is a disease that can fall under both categories. Many types of cancer are now treatable and often patients will make a full recovery from the condition. However some, such as certain bone marrow cancers, cannot yet be cured, making it a chronic condition which can only be monitored and managed. All of these factors are likely to lead to a greater demand for cover for chronic conditions in private medical insurance.

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