Article: Cancer Survivors to Benefit from Insurance Sector ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Move

Tue Apr 4 2023

Mon Apr 3 2023 – Irish Times, Paul Cullen

Mortgage protection insurance code of conduct will disregard diagnosis where treatment ceased seven or more years before application. Thousands of cancer survivors are set to benefit from the introduction of a “right to be forgotten” when applying for mortgage protection insurance.

Insurers will disregard a cancer diagnosis where treatment ended more than seven years before an application under a code of practice set to be announced by Insurance Ireland on Monday.

Where an applicant was under 18 at the time their cancer treatment ceased, the right to be forgotten will apply after five years.

Cover of up to €500,000 per applicant is to be allowed under the revised code, a ceiling Insurance Ireland says covers more than 90 per cent of mortgage protection policies issued in the State.

The changes follow discussion between the industry and the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) after the charity published a report in 2021 highlighting the difficulties many cancer survivors experienced in accessing the necessary life cover to obtain a mortgage.

The European Commission is formulating plans for a right to be forgotten for cancer survivors, designed to prevent financial discrimination and increase their rights. Insurance Ireland says its code of conduct goes beyond the commission’s proposed provisions for mortgage amounts of €200,000 or less and a period of 15 years since the end of cancer treatment.

The code of conduct, which is voluntary, “appropriately balances the needs of cancer survivors without causing a reduction in availability of cover for other consumers”, according to the industry body. It claims the revised rules, which members have six months to implement, will lead to a “faster, more streamlined process”.

Separately, a report from the Society of Actuaries in Ireland warns the cost of life insurance is likely to rise across the board if cancer survivors are given a right to be forgotten. Fewer life insurance products may be sold, depending on how much premiums rise, as some consumers feel unfairly treated, it says.

Life insurance would become more affordable for some cancer survivors and this can be expected to lead to more of them taking out policies, the report finds. However, consumers who have recovered from other illnesses or diseases may feel unfairly treated as they would still be required to disclose their prior condition.

More than 20 million Europeans, including 200,000 people in Ireland, have recovered from cancer. Sixty per cent of respondents to a 2021 ICS survey said they had difficulties when applying for mortgages, loans and insurance, and 40 per cent felt they had been treated unfairly.

About 17,000 cancer survivors applied for life insurance over an eight-year period – 1.7 per cent of all applications – a working group established by the society estimates in the report, based on records from three of the six insurers in the Irish market. An estimated 10,000 of these said their cancer treatment ended more than five years previously – about 1 per cent of applicants.

None of these applications was automatically accepted. An estimated 8,500 were referred to an underwriter for individual consideration, with the remainder declined or postponed for re-assessment after at least six months. Insurance Ireland says applicants who disclose a cancer diagnosis are not automatically declined cover, and many obtain it at either standard rates or with an additional cost.

The working group behind the report asked the six life insurers to assess notional applications from cancer survivors. This showed the severity of previous cancer was a factor in underwriting decisions. Some said they would accept applications from cancer survivors with no extra premium payable both five and 10 years post the completion of treatment, particularly where the cancer was early-stage or a small tumour with no spread.

“However, the majority of insurers did indicate applications are likely to be declined for the most significantly advanced cases regardless of when treatment ended.”

The group says its findings may be more material for other products such as serious illness or income protection.

Welcoming the report, the ICS called on the Government to progress legislation currently in the Seanad that would enshrine the right to be forgotten five years post-treatment.

“Supporting people who have gone through the application process, we have learned the uncertainty of the underwriting decision can lead to increased anxiety, demoralisation and distress, even for those who left cancer behind many years ago,” said its head of advocacy Rachel Morrough.

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