Mitigating the ‘perfect storm’ of financial challenges facing women

Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) is an opportune time to reflect on the kinds of risk cover. Picture: Steve Lawrence, Independent Media.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) is an opportune time to reflect on the kinds of risk cover. Picture: Steve Lawrence, Independent Media.

Published Oct 24, 2023


By Karen Bongers

FTOM CAREGIVING responsibilities and living longer than men to unique healthcare risks, women face a perfect storm when it comes to balancing current financial needs with future planning.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) is an opportune time to reflect on the kinds of risk cover that can make a material difference to women’s lives should any curveballs come.

It’s difficult to think about big life curveballs like cancer, but it’s critical to be covered should you be unable to work for a prolonged period or incur unexpected medical costs. And while all women must consider the cost of having no cover in place, the need is even more pronounced for the 42% of South African households that are female-headed. The reality is that breast cancer has a lifetime risk of 1 in 27 women in South Africa.

Massive strides have been made in diagnosing and treating the illness, which brings a lot of hope and optimism. However, it can be extremely costly, which is where the right life cover can bring significant relief.

Last year, 63% of Sanlam’s severe illness claims for women were attributed to cancer, with almost half (48%) specifically linked to breast cancer. Our Sanlam medical team encourages women to go for annual health checks and perform regular breast self-examinations to support optimal treatment success and good prognosis.

The Right Risk Cover for Women

Women should consider partnering with a trusted financial adviser to think through worst-case scenarios and plan which protective policies to have in place. I strongly suggest that women have their cover, tailored to their needs, rather than relying on a partner’s policies.

Here are the kinds of risk cover that women should consider:

Protecting your health: Severe illness cover is essential to protect against the risk of being diagnosed with a severe illness, like cancer or heart disease.

In the case of cancer, the combined costs can be immense, to the point where families have had to remortgage their homes to cover the expenses involved.

That’s where the right cover can change lives. Whilst medical aid and gap cover are vital, severe illness cover can help cover the costs of oncology drugs as most oncology benefits are capped, and the cost of oncology drugs can be huge.

A lump sum payment from a severe illness benefit can also assist with various unexpected costs like travelling to treatment centres, child care, and a change in diet.

It’s important to check that your life insurance policy includes coverage for cancer, including coverage for early cancer and mastectomies.

Protecting you and your dependents: Death cover is critical for women who are primary or sole breadwinners to ensure their dependents are cared for if they were to pass away. Disability and income protection cover is equally important to provide protection should you be unable to earn an income, either temporarily or permanently.

When it comes to cancer, income protection benefits like sickness benefits can protect against extended absence from work. Breast cancer treatment and recovery can take anything from three to six months or longer, and a typical employer's ‘sick leave’ allowance is usually only 30 days in a three-year cycle.

Women may also need to be cognisant of having protective policies for conditions linked to complications around pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium. These accounted for 12% of Sanlam’s sickness income claims in 2022, c-sections and pregnancy loss included.

Ensuring lifelong protection: On average, women live seven years longer than men. It's essential to make provision for future healthcare needs, including cover for frail care. Longer life expectancy also means women can benefit from the power of compound interest.

Which cover to choose when money is tight?

Tough money conversations today can prevent even tougher times in the future. Investing in cover now could save you from financial stress should the unexpected occur. Ask yourself the hard questions: How will your family get by if you can't earn? Work with a trusted financial adviser to put a plan in place.

If affordability is a problem, consider ranges and options that are more affordable, but still provide good cover. Remember, if you cannot cover yourself fully, some cover is always better than none, and you can ask for premium holidays should you need them.

Consider current as well as future affordability by asking how premiums will increase over time. The cheapest option today may be coupled with steep increases in later years. An adviser can help you determine a realistic financial roadmap that meets your life cover needs.

Women are the heart and soul of our families and communities and play a vital role in our economies.

Karen Bongers is a Product Actuary at Sanlam Risk and Savings.