Cancer and heart attacks main causes for life and critical illness payouts in Middle East

Global insurer Zurich has paid out Dh102m in benefits to its customers over the past three years

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Cancer and heart attacks are the main reasons insurers pay out on life and critical illness cover, according to Swiss firm Zurich Middle East.

In the company's Customer Benefits Paid Report, the global insurer said cancer accounted for 47 per cent of the $102 million (Dh373m) paid out to its customers from January 2016 to December 2018 and heart attacks for 38 per cent.

“Financial protection is paramount, particularly in a region like the Middle East with a significant proportion of working families with dependents,” said Walter Jopp, chief executive of Zurich Middle East. “The financial impact must be considered if the key income earners are unable to work.”

According to the HSBC's 2017 The Power of Protection study, 89 per cent of UAE residents are financially supporting a child or parent, yet 79 per cent do not have insurance to pay them a regular sum if a serious illness or accident prevented them from working.

Despite the Middle East’s relatively young population, chronic health conditions surface at a young age with 48 being the average age for customers receiving a critical illness benefit, according to Zurich, while life insurance claimants are 50.

Cancer is the main cause of critical illness benefits paid to women, accounting for 81 per cent of payouts, while a heart attack is the primary cause of critical illness claims from men (56 per cent). Twelve per cent of payments to men in the region are due to accidents.

Zurich said the $102m in payouts it has made over the past three years is a 27.5 per cent increase compared to the previous period. Many claimants are underinsured, it added, as 88 per cent of customers who suffered a critical illness had coverage of $200,000 or less.

“With critical illness claimants being only 50 years on average, this amount is not enough to cover key needs such as family income replacement and post-operative care expenses, highlighting the importance of having adequate levels of financial protection at the outset,” the insurer said.

Earlier this year, the Insurance Authority issued a third draft of its proposed overhaul of the life insurance sector on its website, indicating it was pushing ahead with regulations to improve how savings, investment and life insurance policies are sold.