A Safety Net in the Sun: Health Insurance's Vital Role in Melanoma Treatment

27 February 2024 by Emily Wheatley in Insurance

A Safety Net in the Sun: Health Insurance's Vital Role in Melanoma Treatment

Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, presents a significant health concern in New Zealand, with the country ranking second globally in skin cancer diagnosis rates, closely following Australia. The high incidence of skin cancer in New Zealand can be attributed to several factors, including elevated UV levels compared to equivalent latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, with a 40% increase in UV radiation during the summer months due to the sun's elliptical orbit[1]. Despite efforts to raise awareness about sun protection measures, the fatality rate for diagnosed cases in New Zealand is notably higher than that of neighbouring countries.

Understanding Melanoma

Melanoma often begins as an abnormal mole or growth on the skin, and early detection is crucial for successful treatment. The most common form of treatment for early-stage melanoma is surgery, which aims to remove any cancerous tissue remaining after the biopsy of the primary tumour. This approach is particularly effective for Stage 1 or Stage 2 melanomas, with a remarkable 98.4% survival rate after five years for Stage 2 diagnoses[2].


Source: www.curemelanoma.org


However, if melanoma progresses to advanced stages, characterised by the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body, survival rates vary depending on the extent of metastasis. Stage 3 melanoma involves the spread to nearby lymph nodes, while Stage 4 melanoma indicates the presence of distant metastases. Fortunately, advancements in treatment options have led to improved survival rates for advanced melanomas in recent years.

With some treatments costs reaching into the hundreds of thousands, affording this without insurance can often be challenging.

Treatment Options

In New Zealand, treatment for Stage 3 and Stage 4 melanomas is often publicly funded and includes the following options:

  • Surgery: Surgical removal of tumours and affected lymph nodes is a common approach for treating advanced melanomas. Surgery may also be employed to remove metastatic tumours in distant sites, such as the brain or lungs, to extend lifespan and alleviate symptoms.
  • Radiation Therapy: High-energy radiation beams are used to kill cancer cells and may be administered after surgery to prevent cancer recurrence. Additionally, radiation therapy can help manage symptoms associated with metastatic melanomas, such as bone pain.
  • Chemotherapy: This treatment involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells and may be utilised to shrink metastatic melanomas or manage symptoms.

However, some advanced treatment options, such as immunotherapy, may not be publicly funded in New Zealand and are only available under specific criteria. Immunotherapy works by enhancing the body's immune system to target and destroy cancer cells. Medications like Keytruda (Pembrolizumab) and OPDIVO (Nivolumab) have shown promising results in shrinking metastatic melanomas by activating the body's immune response against cancer cells[3].

Reduced wait times can be crucial, especially when early intervention is critical to your treatment.

The Role of Private Health Insurance

Private health insurance plays a crucial role in ensuring timely access to advanced treatment options for melanoma patients in New Zealand. While some treatments may not be publicly funded, private health insurance can cover the costs, providing individuals with broader options for care. It is essential to select a comprehensive insurance plan that includes coverage for non-pharmac medications and overseas treatment, as not all policies offer the same level of benefits.

Financial Protection and Peace of Mind

With some treatments costs reaching into the hundreds of thousands, affording this without insurance can often be challenging. Health insurance offers you some reassurance knowing that treatment and other associated costs will be covered by your insurer. The knowledge that you are covered for any potential medical in the future with minimal disruption to your financials can give you the peace of mind to allow you to focus on your road to recovery.

Reduced Wait Times

Reduced wait times can be crucial, especially when early intervention is critical to your treatment. While New Zealand has a robust public health system, it is also very much under pressure and can result in extensive wait times while your condition worsens. Having your diagnosis and treatment expedited through the private system can lead to better outcomes for your health.

Comprehensive Support Services

Often, private health insurance includes other benefits such as psychological counselling, nutritional support, and palliative care. Some plans may also include cover for experimental treatment through clinical trials or experimental treatment. Access to cutting-edge treatments can offer more hope to patients and can also lead to breakthroughs in cancer research and treatments. These services can play a vital role in addressing the holistic needs of patients and their families, enhancing overall well-being and quality of life throughout the treatment journey.

Choice of Specialists and Treatment Facilities

Private Health Insurance gives you access to facilities, treatments, and doctors that the public health system wouldn’t be able to offer. This ensures you are receiving the best care possible at state-of-the-art facilities that are best tailored to your needs.

Tailored To You

Health Insurers provide a wide range of plans and additional benefits so that you are able to tailor your plan to your lifestyle. Common add-ons include Dental and Optical, Specialists, or GP visits. This can provide you peace of mind when it comes to your everyday healthcare costs such as a visit to your dentist or a registered nurse. Your Financial Adviser can assist you in tailoring the best plan for you and your family's needs and explain all of the confusing insurance jargon to make it seem like a less daunting process.

Ensure You’re Protected

Melanoma remains a significant health concern in New Zealand, necessitating proactive measures for prevention, early detection, and access to effective treatment options. While public healthcare services cover certain treatments, the availability of advanced therapies may be limited. Private health insurance offers a solution by providing broader coverage for advanced treatments, including immunotherapy, which can significantly impact patient outcomes. By prioritising sun protection measures and securing comprehensive health insurance coverage, individuals can take proactive steps to safeguard their health and well-being in the face of melanoma risk.

Article by Emily Wheatley

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking into consideration any particular person's objectives, financial situation or needs. Any opinions contained in it are held by the author as at the report date and are subject to change without notice.

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[1] https://skintel.co.nz/articles/nz-high-rate-skin-cancer/#:~:text=New%20Zealand%20gets%2040%25%20higher,7%25%20increase%20in%20UV%20radiation

[2] https://www.curemelanoma.org/about-melanoma/melanoma-staging/melanoma-survival-rates

[3] https://www.cancer.org.nz/cancer/types-of-cancer/melanoma-of-the-skin/treatment-of-melanoma/

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