Singapore has a massive Critical Illness Protection Gap [What can be done to fix it?]

Posted 10 October, 2019 by Clearly
in Educate Yourself

The results of the latest Protection Gap Study was released by LIA (Life Insurance Association of Singapore) in 2018. It also included an analysis of the Critical Illness (CI) Protection Gap for the very first time.

To put it bluntly, it was not pretty at all – we have an 81% CI protection shortfall as a nation. We covered it in detail here.


When AIA Singapore invited us down for a dialogue session on 8th October to discuss what more could be done to plug the significant CI gap, we needed no urging whatsoever.

In attendance were medical experts and a cancer survivor:

  • Dr Tay Miah Hiang, Senior Consultant Medical Oncologist at OncoCare Cancer Centre
  • Ms Mavis Leong, AIA Financial Services Consultant, Breast Cancer Survivor
  • Mr Bryan Koh, CEO & Founder, WhiteCoat

Chaired by Ms Ho Lee Yen, the Chief Marketing Officer of AIA Singapore, the dialogue also preceded the launch of a long-awaited solution to bridge the CI protection gap here by addressing concerns, health trends and desires of customers directly.


L to R: Miss Mavis Leong, Miss Ho Lee Yen, Mr Bryan Koh, Dr Tay Miah Hiang


Of particular interest to us were the findings of AIA’s own survey (AIA Power Critical Cover Study 2019), upon which their new plan was based.

This article documents our key learnings and thoughts from the event.


The Stats are scary. But oh so real


The original 81% CI protection gap was calculated and presented by Ernst and Young Pte Ltd, so any sceptic could dismiss them as pencil pushers with 0 understanding of the Life Insurance Industry. Fair enough.


But AIA’s own study showed (conducted over a sample size of 500):

1 in 5 are unsure if their insurance portfolio includes CI cover

8 in 10 mistakenly think that CI cover includes ALL tumours


Of special significance, amongst people who survived critical illnesses:

1 in 3 DID NOT have CI Coverage

4 in 5 continue to face a lifetime of chronic health conditions, even after CI recovery.


In our narrative, the story goes like this:

Some of us are not even sure if we have CI cover. (not too bad)
Most of us don’t know what exactly does CI cover comprise of. (that’s ok too since most of us are not industry professionals)

But with the prevalence rate of cancer hitting 20-25% of our population and rising (source: Singapore Cancer Annual Registry Report), one-third of us have no financial protection against it. (a near-disaster scenario)

To make matters worse, nearly all cancer survivors have impaired health for the rest of their life, translating to increased medical expenses – and possibly decreased income potential. A catastrophic double whammy.



If you need a scary costume idea for Halloween, consider donning the CI protection gap garb.


When a Critical illness strikes, financial concerns should be the least of your concerns


But it can, (and does) get in the way of recovery.

Ms Mavis Leong recounts that she was shocked and taken aback upon receiving the bad news of her first cancer diagnosis in 2012, but she knew she was well covered by her existing policies (She is a Financial Services Consultant with AIA)

Since money was not an issue, she could focus on receiving treatment from “the best oncologists and leave the rest to God”.


But Dr Tay described a common scenario where patients sometimes have to make a choice between a more effective yet more expensive treatment, versus a less effective but cheaper treatment.

In more extreme cases, there are people who want private medical services but cannot afford them at all.



Imagine being put into a situation where you are forced to choose between saving money – or saving your own life. And it happens more often than you think.


Speaking of which…


Critical illnesses strike all the time. Yet when it hits us – we think: Why me?


That was Ms Leong’s first thought after receiving the bad news. Why me?

We tend to downplay the probability of undesirable life circumstances simply because they are unpleasant to contemplate.

Yet this is the very reason that many Life Planners (Ms Leong herself included) encounter resistance from their clients regarding CI protection plans: It won’t happen to me.

The inevitable conclusion: People like that tend to be the hardest hit when bad news comes knocking, both psychologically and financially.


Burying their heads in the sand works wonderfully well for ostriches. Not so for humans.


The heavy irony – We sacrifice our lifestyle to get ahead financially, yet do not protect ourselves in that regard


70 hour weeks? Check.
Regular fast food lunches at our desks? Check.
Lazing in on the weekends to “recover”? Check.
Turning in past midnight as a lifestyle? Check.


We get it, truly. Singaporeans are nothing, if not kiasu. We want to get ahead in our careers, earn a comfortable living and provide well for our families.


The 2 layers of irony did not escape our notice during the dialogue.


We make terrible lifestyle choices to get ahead at work.
But these same choices contribute to the rising occurrence of critical illnesses.

Many of us don’t buy CI cover to save money (citing “budget constraints”)
Yet CI strikes more frequently than ever, and those without adequate protection are left in a terrible financial position – the very thing we are working so hard to avoid.


Oh, and just an offhand statistic to share: Medical cost inflation is about 10% per annum in Singapore. Source here

Enough doom and gloom though, we did take some positive notes down too!


There are great knock-on effects of leading a healthy lifestyle


Anecdotally, Dr Tay shared with us that a friend of his was shocked at how high his blood sugar level had risen. This friend immediately consulted medical advice and months later reported stellar blood sugar levels after a meal.

The point of this is that people who lead a healthy lifestyle are the ones that keep a close watch on any abnormal symptoms they may experience, leading to earlier diagnosis. And any doctor would agree that the earlier the discovery, the better the prognosis.

Besides, a healthy lifestyle is also commonly cited as one of the factors of cancer prevention.

Read: time for us all to dust off the jogging shoes.


Newer trends in healthcare provide huge convenience and cost savings


Enter Whitecoat. It is an app that links up people with doctors on their network, so diagnosis and prescriptions can be made without leaving one’s home.

Teleconsulting is the official term, we just call it “face timing your doctor”.

It provides a big chunk of convenience, especially for people with chronic illnesses and have to check in frequently with their health care provider.

Because it saves the patient travel and waiting time, it increases the adherence rate of treatments – great for both patient and doctor.

There are also cost savings since the appropriate level of health care can be dispensed – engaging GPs instead of Specialists when it is suitable to do so.


Now to solve the problem the dialogue was aiming to solve.


The key to addressing the protection gap: We knew it since 2014


We = Clearly Surely. We’ll explain in a second.

When asked for a solution to combat the protection gap, the panel was unanimous:

Its all about education.


Quite easy to see why.


When people are properly educated about the benefits of adequate Critical Illness protection, they will be more amenable to the idea, instead of dismissing it as an “improbability”.

Financial Consultants would have an easier time highlighting their proposed solutions.

Ergo, more people would buy protection.


So education is the key. Guess which site was set up over 4 years ago to provide Life Insurance education?


#itoldyouso #clairvoyant #flex




Self aggrandization aside, we learnt a fair bit during that exchange. It isn’t all that often we get a chance to meet professionals from various related industries to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

AIA also launched a new CI plan as a follow up to their survey conducted, and it looks pretty cool.(super-comprehensive coverage, peace of mind for relapsed conditions and also access to quality healthcare.)

It was specifically put together to address the top concerns of both the general population and CI survivors. Check out AIA Power Critical Cover here

Infographic by AIA Singapore


Special thanks to AIA for the kind invitation and hospitality.

Shoutout to Ogilvy, home to an exceptional team of PR professionals. Their senior associates are particularly outstanding. aims to eradicate the knowledge gap between consumers and Life Insurance. Our Vision is that one day, every Man, Woman, and Child will be properly insured.

We are also in the midst of building a top-secret new platform that will change the way people view financial planning. PS. It does not contain lame hyperboles like “fintech” or “insurtech” or “machine-learning” or “AI”.

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