Erin Wallace (right), with partner Ryan Fairweather and their dog, Clover (photo: Erin Wallace)

A Healthy Investment: Critical Illness Insurance

By Robin Schroffel

Erin Wallace never imagined she’d have to freeze her embryos. Both she and her husband, Ryan Fairweather, were young and healthy; they were planning to start a family. But in January 2014, at age 30, Erin was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. The Calgary couple’s focus switched immediately to cancer treatment.

That treatment involved chemotherapy, which had the potential to negatively affect Erin’s fertility. After a consultation at the Regional Fertility Program in Calgary, the couple decided they wanted to guard against that risk. But the price tag for in vitro
fertilization (IVF) was hefty: $10,000.

As self-employed artists—a photographer and a glass blower, respectively—Erin and Ryan didn’t have that kind of savings. Thankfully, they had purchased critical illness insurance from AMA a few years earlier, after a house fire disrupted their lives but made them determined to prepare for future challenges. They were able to claim on the policy 30 days after Erin’s initial diagnosis, and soon had a cheque for $100,000 from Manulife Financial in their hands. The payout meant they could afford the upfront costs of IVF; they’d be able to start a family once Erin’s illness was under control.

Erin remembers the moment she phoned in her claim to AMA. “It’s shocking to have to make that call,” she says. “But our AMA insurance rep, Brent McConnell, was so compassionate. He came over and explained it all. I thought there would be a lot of paperwork and red tape and difficulty claiming the policy; that maybe there would be a reason we wouldn’t get it or something. Brent reassured us, saying, ‘Nope, it’s all good. I’ll bring you a cheque next week.’ And then he did. It was the easiest thing in the world.”

critical illness insurance ama
Erin and Ryan and Calgary’s Beakerhead festival in 2015 (photo: Erin Wallace)

Fertility preservation was the first expense the funds covered, and it was a good thing: About six weeks after Erin’s chemotherapy ended, her cancer returned. This time, she needed a stem cell transplant—an aggressive treatment option that would wreak havoc on her reproductive system.

Freezing her embryos was the biggest upfront cost of Erin’s treatment, but it was far from the last. The insurance money paid for myriad expenses during her yearlong recovery: prescription drugs; acupuncture; specialized tests from an integrative medicine doctor; housekeeping; a custom wig made so Erin could maintain her confidence. The couple even treated themselves to one luxury: a pair of stand-up paddleboards.

TO YOUR HEALTH!
To learn more about critical illness and other health insurance products, visit an AMA centre, call 1-844-255-6556 to book an appointment with an AMA Life Advisor, or click here

That’s the beauty of a critical illness insurance policy, notes Kris Hird, manager of life and living benefits at AMA Insurance. “What they do with that money is completely up to them.”

Unlike life insurance, which pays out to beneficiaries after the policyholder’s death, critical illness insurance helps a person—and his or her family—manage the financial risk of surviving a major disease or condition. Still, Kris sees far fewer clients purchase it.

“People should almost be looking at critical illness insurance more,” he says, “because the likelihood of it happening is higher and it might have more financial impact on their family.”

Approximately 25 conditions are covered, including what Kris calls “the big four”: cancer, heart attack, stroke and bypass surgery. Family history plays a significant part in the underwriting, and policies are purchased based on a needs analysis; anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 is typical. It’s an important piece of coverage, Kris says, and it’s best to buy when you’re young—before you have any major health events.

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Critical illness insurance is just one of a number of supplementary health insurance options offered by AMA. Depending on your needs, other supplemental options, such as disability or long-term care insurance, can also relieve some costs not covered by provincial health plans. Though each product has a specialized purpose, they’re all designed to minimize financial stress during periods of hardship.

That rings true for Erin Wallace. She believes her cancer experience would have been much more difficult without critical illness insurance. “I think it would have been a lot more stressful on everybody—me, my husband and our family members, because they would have felt like they had to fill that gap.

“Having the money allowed me to do some things to ease some of the unpleasantness of chemo and its side effects. And I think it probably helped me recover faster, too, because I was able to pay for other services that a lot of people don’t have access to.”

January 15, 2017 marked Erin’s two-year remission anniversary. Now that most of the effects of her illness are gone, she’s rebuilding her strength so she and her husband can pick up where they left off. They hope to start a family as soon as possible. But they’re not feeling any pressure: With her embryos safe, Erin can take all the recovery time she needs.

critical illness insurance ama
Standup paddleboards: a small luxury afford to Wallace and Fairweather thanks to Wallace’s critical illness insurance policy (photos: Erin Wallace)

ADDED PROTECTION
Albertans are privileged to enjoy the benefits of public health insurance. But today’s healthcare needs are more complex than ever; at times you’ll want more than the basics. AMA offers a variety of supplemental insurance options to help you bear the costs of essential healthcare needs and unexpected medical challenges.

Extended Health
Helps pay for products and services—such as prescription medicine, massage therapy, psychologist visits, root canals or eyeglasses—that aren’t covered by Alberta Health. It’s especially useful for those who are self-employed, or who are employed but not covered under a group plan.

Critical Illness
A lump sum, typically between $50,000 and $200,000, is paid out to help ease the financial burden of recovering from a major illness or medical event. There are no conditions on how the money is spent.

Disability
A monthly tax-free benefit based on your salary if illness or injury prevents you from working. Disability is often included as part of group employment benefits plans, but make sure that you’re covered if you can’t perform your “regular occupation.” Otherwise, if you’re an arborist who can no longer climb trees but you are able to pour a cup of coffee, you may find yourself forced into a new line of work. AMA can help top up your existing disability coverage with a variety of riders, tailored to your needs.

Long-Term Care
Alberta Health doesn’t cover costs if you age into needing home care or a move to a nursing home. With a long-term care policy from AMA, you’re purchasing a pool of assets; when a claim is made, a percentage of that pool pays out to you monthly.

HOW TO SAVE
Members save on massage therapy*, health products and more at AMARewards partners in Alberta:

Save 10% on spa services and 50% on drop-in yoga classes at Bliss YogaSpa
Save 10% on Float Wellness massages and floats
Save 10% on spa services and merchandise at Kaya Kama
Save up to 15% on hearing aids from Connect Hearing
Save up to 30% on eyewear, accessories and more at LensCrafters

*Massage therapy is covered by most private and group plans. However, not all massage therapists are recognized practitioners. Check with your insurer to confirm the eligibility and certification requirements of your plan.