Every year, roughly 720,000 Americans suffer a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The price tag is just as staggering. Health care services, medication and lost productivity for coronary heart disease racks up an annual bill of $108.9 billion in the U.S., the CDC says.

A critical illness can hurt a person financially in multiple ways, says Ashley Mehrer, Unum’s director of product and market development based in Chattanooga, Tenn. Even with long-term disability, an employee is still losing income and might also be faced with higher medical expenses, she says.

That’s where CI coverage can help supplement LTD and medical coverage — and more employers are adding it to their voluntary benefits to combat rising out-of-pocket costs. “It’s really becoming a standard offering,” says Greg Callahan, a Kansas City-based CBIZ consultant. “I’m seeing more and more demand for gap-filling products.”

Those products are improving, Callahan says, as insurance companies gain a better understanding of how people are using their CI coverage and what claims are being filed. The best plans include health screenings, he says, which can help catch potential illnesses earlier.

The market continues to expand as new carriers are offering plans and employers of all sizes are offering coverage, Mehrer says. There’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to plan design and features can be customized to each plan sponsor, she says. “I see this as a really good product fit for just about all cases.”

Popularity increasing among all markets

Critical illness coverage is no longer just a blue-collar benefit, it’s being offered to gray-collar and white-collar workforces, too, says Michael Estep, vice president of group life, disability and supplemental health product development at Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. There’s also been growth in the public sector, says Lori Hardy, director of product and market development for Columbia, S.C.-based Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company. “The product is becoming more mainstream,” Estep says. “We anticipate steady growth into the foreseeable future.”

Private exchanges have helped fuel that growth, says Estep, who’s based in New York City. Today, it’s as simple as making CI insurance available and letting the consumer decide to purchase it or not. “It’s more readily available, the need is there and people are buying it,” Estep says.  

In addition to a shift to high-deductible health plans, lack of savings has also created a surge in CI plans, says Estep. “Americans really don’t save,” he says. In fact, 62% of people don’t have enough in their savings account to cover unexpected bills, according to survey by Bankrate, Inc.

And yet, nearly half, 49%, of Americans have at least one of three risk factors for heart disease — high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, smoking — the CDC says. That’s why education about critical illnesses and products that can help protect employees from financial hardship is crucial, Hardy says.

“It helps establish the need for the product,” she says. “Critical illnesses don’t necessarily discriminate.” 

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