When Critical Illness proves the essential key to getting on with life
For many people, their 30s are a life-changing decade. It might be a time that your career takes off, you decide to ‘settle down’ and maybe start a family. It’s not necessarily a point in life where you consider something dreadful might happen, or how you might cope if it does.
Jeremy was in his mid-thirties and married with a young family, working in the charity sector, when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Reporting to his GP with symptoms in September, things progressed rapidly, and on Christmas Eve, 2020, he found himself having surgery for what turned out to be a Stage 3 tumour.
Today, Jeremy describes himself as ‘lucky’ — both because his treatment has gone well and he is back at home and back at work, but also because his employer had provided him with a range of benefits, including Critical Illness (CI) cover from Unum. Here, he tells us how the support of his employer, and the reassurance of a financial lump sum, has helped him, and his family, as he continues down the road to recovery.
“I did know that I had CI cover as part of my benefits package, but I didn’t know the exact details of what that entailed. It was certainly not something I would have thought about taking out for myself. So when I was diagnosed I turned to our HR team to see what help was available and they put me in touch with the company’s broker, who sent me the claims forms.
“Strangely I found it quite therapeutic sorting out the paperwork for various things before I went into surgery, but it was a pretty tough time, as you can imagine. We were deep in the COVID restrictions, so I couldn’t have visitors while I was in hospital. Fortunately, the children were really young and didn’t know what was going on, which was a bit of a blessing.
“It was a nice surprise to receive the money from my CI policy so quickly, and with so little fuss. I did feel that the Unum claims handler was on top of everything. They helped chase up some of the medical paperwork for instance. And I felt that they knew exactly what was needed and when, and that I could contact them at any point.”
Jeremy tells us that, whilst he was vaguely aware of the details of his employer-provided benefits package, others he knows in a similar situation were not, which made their whole experience more difficult. He emphasises how important it is to know what you’re entitled to in the event of a significant illness or injury.
“A friend had a similar diagnosis, and she hadn’t a clue whether she had any support from her employer. I think that made it harder, as she had to do some digging around while she was still reeling from learning she had cancer. So I do think it’s important that you take time to read and understand what’s included in your benefits package — and employers need to be really clear about telling staff what they’re entitled to.
“Plus, you need to know where you have a gap, where something’s not covered. Lots of people think about making a will when they have kids, or taking out life assurance to make sure their family is taken care of if they die. But when you’re living with an illness, but not necessarily able to work with it, you really do need to know that the day-to-day is still being taken care of. Things like childcare, even a cleaner or the cost of travelling to medical appointments.
“My employer has been brilliant, and I’ve had the time off that I’ve needed to recover, with full pay. But not every employer can do that. I’d urge people to check what they are entitled to under their contract, understand what extra benefits the company provides and then make sure they plug any gaps. I’ve not needed to touch my CI payout, but it’s been incredibly comforting to know that if I wasn’t able to return to work, or my employer couldn’t keep paying my full salary, I had some money in the bank to keep things as normal as possible.
“You’ve got to think that it’s not just for you. It’s for your family. The last thing they want to worry about when they’re watching you recover from an illness is how they’re going to pay the bills.”
“It’s wonderful to hear that Jeremy’s employer has been able to support him throughout the time he’s had to take off work, and lovely to know that his CI payment is safe in the bank for a rainy day. But many employees who’ve made a claim on their CI policy tell us they’ve used the money to help with their recovery and even improve their life after illness — maybe paying for private medical treatments, helping with adaptations to their home or even paying off part of their mortgage.
“Jeremy makes such a good point about knowing what’s available to you as an employee. I’d like to add how important it is that employers play their part in making employees aware of all their benefits and how they can access them. Our regular Wellbeing Ready sessions are run to remind employers (and brokers) exactly what we offer under each policy, and to help them engage employees to make the most of these additional services.”
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