Insurance company Irish Life paid out almost €300m in life insurance, illness, and injury claims to more than 6,900 people last year, according to its annual report.

The data gives an insight into the health of the nation. Cancer was the biggest cause of death in Ireland in 2018, with 11% more cancer related life insurance and specified illness claims last year compared to 2017.

According to a breakdown of payments by Irish Life, around 50% of life insurance claims, 60% of serious illness claims and 20% of income protection claims were cancer-related. 

"I suppose as the population gets older, there are more incidents of cancers," said Martin Duffy, Head of Underwriting and Protection Claims with Irish Life Retail.

"We have more people working now, so more people are taking cover, and we have quite enhanced screening programmes, that are well established, which detect cancers early, and so obviously we see claims as a result of those as well."

The average payment was just over €66,000 on life insurance.

It was also €66,000 for serious illness, and Mr Duffy said that payment does help families in the event that they suffer some financial consequences as a result of illness and having to take time off work.

Irish Life paid 2.5 times more claims for living benefits than for life insurance in the event of death. Living benefit claims include lump sum payments for specified illnesses, and regular payments to people who can’t work due to accident or illness while employed. "I think people's perceptions is that we just pay for life insurance claims on death. Living benefits would be paying a lump sum if a person has been diagnosed with a serious illness, for example, a heart attack, a stroke or cancer.
And income protection, if people can't work, we pay a benefit to them in lieu of income if they are not able to work."

The Irish Life claims report showed significant gender variations in relation to life insurance and specified illness claims for 2018. Almost two thirds of life insurance claims were for men (61%) compared to just 37% for women. Heart-related conditions also feature as a main cause of death, with men 3.5 times more likely to die from a heart related condition than women

The main triggers for people buying life insurance is when people take out a mortgage, or get married, and particularly when people start having children.

Half of people in Ireland have no life insurance cover at all. 1 in 5 has cover against a specified illness and 1 in 8 has income protection. 

"I think people are more aware that they need to protect themselves financially," Mr Duffy said. "None of us can predict the future, and I think that is something that comes through on our claims statistics. We can't predict our incidents of cancers and illness, but it's important that people have financial protection in place, if something untoward does happen."

Mr Duffy said people insure their homes, cars and pets, and he said it is important that people insure themselves as well.