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Critical Illness Insurance Pioneer Dr. Marius Barnard Dies at 87

By Andrew Rickard | December 03 2014 01:00PM

Dr. Marius Barnard, the South African heart surgeon who helped to develop the world’s first critical illness insurance policy, died at his home in Cape Town on Nov. 14. He was 87.

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Dr. Barnard, who assisted his brother Dr. Christiaan Barnard in performing the world's first successful heart transplant in 1967, noticed that while transplant patients were able to survive operation, they were often left in serious financial difficulties a result of treatment costs. "They didn't lose their life," he once remarked, "they lost their life savings." What people needed, thought Barnard, was insurance that would provide a lump sum that would both pay for the up-front treatment costs and give them time to recuperate afterwards. This idea took form in 1983, when he helped South Africa's Crusader Life launch the world's first critical illness insurance policy.

Barnard travelled the world promoting the benefits of critical illness coverage. Speaking at The World Critical Illness Insurance Conference in 2007, he said he wanted the product to be more affordable so that more people could obtain it. In particular, he expressed concern that the industry was not pricing risk accordingly. He recommended that insurers recognize not just the presence but also the severity of the illness and grade payouts according. If people can’t afford CI protection, “I’ll blame you", he told industry members attending the conference in Victoria, British Columbia. “You must develop a new product,” he said.

Alphonso Franco, a financial advisor in Victoria and organizer of the World Critical Illness Conference, was a friend of Dr. Barnard's and accompanied him on Canadian speaking engagements. In his eulogy for Dr. Barnard, Mr. Franco remembered him as a deeply religious man who was committed to the welfare of others.

"Marius, through his jet lag, ill health, and other discomforts, gave the best presentation each and every time. I have never seen a speaker anywhere on the professional circuit get half as many standing ovations," wrote Mr. Franco. "Marius got that appreciation because people saw that he was speaking from his heart, he connected with their hearts like no other speaker."

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