Thousands of cancer survivors will benefit from the introduction of the “right to be forgotten” when applying for mortgage protection insurance.
Insurers will waive a cancer diagnosis where treatment ends more than seven years prior to application under a code of practice to be announced by Insurance Ireland on Monday.
If the applicant is under 18 years of age when his cancer treatment is stopped, the right of oblivion will take effect after five years.
Coverage of up to €500,000 per applicant will be permitted under the revised code, an Irish Insurance ceiling says covers more than 90 per cent of mortgage protection policies issued in the State.
The changes follow discussions between the industry and the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) after the charity published a report in 2021 highlighting the difficulties many cancer survivors experience in accessing the life protection needed to obtain a mortgage.
The European Commission is formulating a rights-forgetting plan for cancer survivors, designed to prevent financial discrimination and enhance their rights. Insurance Ireland says its code of conduct goes beyond the commission’s proposed terms for mortgage amounts of €200,000 or less and a maturity of 15 years from the end of cancer treatment.
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The code of conduct, which is voluntary, “appropriately balances the needs of cancer survivors without causing a reduction in the availability of protections 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 and streamlined process”.
Separately, a report from the Society of Actuaries in Ireland warned that life insurance costs would likely rise if cancer survivors were given the right to be forgotten. Fewer life insurance products could be sold, depending on premium increases, because some consumers felt they were being treated unfairly, he said.
Life insurance will become more affordable for some cancer survivors and this is expected to lead to more of them taking out policies, according to the report. However, consumers who have recovered from illness or other ailments may feel unfairly treated because they are still required to disclose their previous condition.
More than 20 million Europeans, including 200,000 people in Ireland, have recovered from cancer. Sixty percent of respondents to the ICS 2021 survey said they experienced difficulties when applying for mortgages, loans, and insurance, and 40 percent felt they were being treated unfairly.
Some 17,000 cancer survivors applied for life insurance over an eight-year period – 1.7 per cent of all applications – estimates a working group formed by the society in the report, based on records from three out of six insurers in the Irish market. An estimated 10,000 of them said their cancer treatment ended more than five years earlier – about 1 percent of applicants.
None of these applications are accepted automatically. An estimated 8,500 were referred to underwriters for individual consideration, with the remainder either rejected or postponed for reassessment after at least six months. Insurance Ireland says applicants who disclose a cancer diagnosis do not automatically refuse coverage, and many get it at standard rates or for an additional fee.
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The working group behind the report asked six life insurance companies to assess the notional applications of cancer survivors. This suggests the severity of previous cancer is a factor in the underwriting decision. Some say they will accept applications from cancer survivors without paying an additional premium both five and 10 years after completion of treatment, especially where the cancer is in its early stages or the tumor is small without spreading.
“However, most insurance companies do indicate that applications are likely to be rejected for the most significantly advanced cases regardless of when treatment ends.”
The group said its findings may be more material for other products such as serious illness or income protection.
Welcoming the report, ICS asked the Government to enact a law currently in 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 that the uncertainty of underwriting decisions can increase anxiety, demoralization, and distress, even for those who have walked away from cancer years ago,” said chief advocacy Rachel Morrough.