Survivorship Series - Surviving Heart Attack
Heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) are the second most common cause of claim for Critical Illness insurance, yet there are differences of opinion on exactly what should be covered under a Critical Illness policy. Should these policies pay for other serious cardiac events, such as Congestive Heart Failure or Sudden Cardiac Death?
For the purposes of this discussion, we focus on two issues: the traditional reason that Critical Illness insurance was developed - to help cover the high out-of-pocket cost so often associated with surviving a critical illness - and secondly, the rates for and survival from acute myocardial infarction hospitalization.
Fifty years ago we did not fully understand the cardiac risks associated with smoking, obesity, elevated cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension. It was not uncommon for people in their 50s and 60s to have heart attacks, and there were limited treatment options for the damage suffered by the heart. Heart attack and death were synonymous for many Americans.
As the chart below illustrates, hospital death rates for Acute Myocardial Infarction are about half of what they were just 20 years ago.
Improved diagnostic, surgical, and prescription drug treatments are only part of the reasons for such drastic improvement. Pre-hospital technical changes have also played an important role in getting heart attack victims into hospitals quicker than ever. An individual suffering a heart attack today has near instantaneous care in many cases. Cell phones ensure that someone nearby will call 911 within seconds rather than minutes and many malls, airports, sporting venues and places of employment have emergency defibrillators readily available. Once the EMS team arrives it is in direct communication with the hospital staff and often relaying vital statistics that enable the emergency room staff to immediately commence with appropriate life-saving procedures.
Focusing on survival rates only tells one small part of the story. While fatality rates have dropped precipitously, the incidence of acute myocardial infarction has been more stubborn.
However, survival comes at a cost and the resulting price tag is normally quite hefty. The immediate out-of-pocket cost of hospitalization and treatment alone can be devastating. This is especially true for individuals with minimal savings and high deductible health plans. Even among those who may have established a suitable Health Savings Account, few will have funded it enough to cover the lifetime of care and prescription medications needed if they have survived a serious heart attack.
Living benefits such as Disability Income and Critical Illness insurance are more important than ever. The financial impact of surviving a heart attack can be greater than dying from one. Dr. Marius Barnard developed the world’s first Critical Illness policy because he understood that eliminating the financial stress of surviving a critical illness enabled his patients to focus on recovering from their medical conditions.
For more information on mortality improvement and the need for living benefits view our complete Survivorship Series.