Life insurers have always played a critical role when someone has become ill. Now some companies are bolstering their efforts to help members re-integrate into society after treatment.

With the medical system strained by rising numbers of people receiving treatment, the focus of care is often purely on survival, Simonie Fox, group strategy manager of rehabilitation and claims at AIA Australia, told the Investment Magazine Group Insurance Summit at the Four Seasons, Sydney.

“We’ve got oncologists whose patient load is growing and growing. Consequently, they’re really focusing on survival, and rightly so; if you’ve got cancer, you really want your oncologist to be looking at survival,” Fox explained. “But there’s a piece that gets missed here and that’s getting someone back to life, back to work, back to enjoying their life at the end of cancer.”

Cancer is one of the top three causes of claims at AIA, and Australia now has a cancer survival rate of 68 per cent, due to medical advances; therefore, AIA has developed a suite of cancer-related services that play out from when it receives the claim, through to when the claim comes to completion.

One service is an exercise physiology program, based on a growing body of research showing that all cancer patients should be prescribed exercise. Few hospitals are prescribing exercise as part of their standard care programs with cancer, Fox said, despite its proven role in increasing tumour destruction, reducing fatigue and nausea, and easing associated mental health issues such as anxiety.

A physiologist guides cancer patients through exercises in a safe environment in tandem with the treatment they are receiving. After the exercise, the physiologist talks to them about how they can reconnect with the things they love in life – and often about work.

“Working is good for our health, it’s good for our wellbeing, and starting that conversation early is really important,” Fox said.

Another service focuses on mental health issues specific to cancer patients, particularly the anxiety associated with fear of a possible recurrence.

“It is natural to fear recurrence, you can imagine…so we need to support them in normalising that experience, controlling what they can control through regular checkups and so on, and looking after their mental health,” Fox said.

AIA also helps with planning for a return to work. Often people who have had a life-threatening illness have re-evaluated their futures and have different expectations for their future careers.

“We need to work with these members, work out what is going to drive them and help them have a satisfying career again,” Fox said.

For supermarket giant Coles, giving mental illness for workers the same weighting as physical injuries is an important part of dealing with the stigma associated with mental illness, Paul Miridakis, divisional manager, workers compensation and injury management, at Coles, told the summit.

Coles has a number of programs in place to raise awareness of this issue, including providing psychological counselling weekly at large facilities and physiotherapy programs aimed at preventing the recurrence of physical injuries.

Miridakis said Coles processed about 4000 workplace injury claims a year – just under 4 per cent of its employee population of 110,000. The majority are physical injuries, with only a small proportion related to mental health.

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