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Medical insurance companies are reporting more claims by cancer patients, indicating a rise in the incidence of the disease. Every year, at least 10 lakh new cases of cancer are detected in India and six lakh die of it.

On the bright side, analysis of the reimbursement data shows that the number of patients fighting cancer – and surviving it – is increasing, said medical and insurance experts. On the other hand, though cancer is mainly considered a disease of the elderly, almost half of the claims are from younger patients. Persons between 46 and 55 comprised almost a quarter of all claims from a private insurer, while almost one in five reimbursement demands came from those between 36 and 45.

"Our claims for cancer treatment have gone up 33% from 2012 to 2013," said Sanjay Dutta of ICICI Lombard, the country’s largest private medical insurance provider.

Shreeraj Deshpande of Future Generali India said cancer is now among the top five diseases for which medical insurance reimbursements are issued.

Tata Memorial Centre director Dr Rajendra Badwe said there is a great "transition" of the disease in India. "The number of incurable cancers such as stomach and deep cervical cancers are decreasing even as the number of curable cancers such as breast and thyroid are increasing,’’ he said.

Cancer insurance claims rise sharply

As the number of curable cancers increase, the search for treatment and funds leads to insurance companies. "Governments, too, have signed up with insurance companies to offer free treatment for people. Many are increasing their insurance covers, and hence paying higher premiums. All this has led to a spurt in this sector," said ICICI Lombard’s Dutta.

Data collated by the insurance regulator says average claims paid for cancer treatment is the fourth highest among all ailments. In 2011-12, the latest year for which entire industry data is available, 47,182 claims for cancer treatment amounting to Rs 163 crore were settled. Last year’s claims would be a multiple of this number, said industry officials.

Though the biggest chunk (28%) of cancer claimants for ICICI Lombard’s health insurance in 2013 belongs to the 56-65 age group, 18% came from those between 36 and 45 and 25% from those aged 46-55 (see box). Cancer is mainly considered a disease of the elderly, yet claims from the 66-80 age group barely makes up for 10% of all claims.

Insurance experts say the growth in claims for cancer also indicates that better and early diagnosis is leading to many patients seeking early treatment and, hence, better cure rates. "Early detection for many different types of cancer are available, prompting people to seek treatment,’’ said Dutta. As cancer treatment is not a one-off hospital stay and involves many procedures, claims are usually high.

Experts also say rising cancer figures have prompted people to purchase more health insurance policies with higher sum insured. Max Bupa Health Insurance CEO Manasije Mishra said: "In our observation, customers tend to opt for Rs 2-3 lakh cover which can prove insufficient for diseases like cancer. They need about double the cover for such illnesses."

An official of a public sector insurance company offered another angle to the issue. "There is a rise in the incidence, which may have to do with the environment and food. But the rise in treatment cost could also be because it is being detected early thanks to growing consciousness. Some corporate groups are asking for mammography (scanning for breast cancer) to be covered as a benefit under their group policy," he said.

Times of India
04 Feb 2014,
Mumbai, India
by - Malathy Iyer & Mayur Shetty

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