Women face less risk than men of incurring a critical illness.

In a first national study, the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance (AACII) reveals the likelihood of incurring a critical illness for men and women up to age 55.

AACII’s first National Critical Illness Risk Assessment Study, prepared by actuarial firm Milliman Inc., found non-smoking women are at significantly less risk than their male smoking counterparts. While nearly half (49 percent) of 35-year-old male tobacco users will incur a critical illness before age 65, only 35 percent of female smokers will, according to the report.

The study also revealed that 17 percent of non-smoking men and 36 percent of male smokers who reach the age of 55 without having a critical illness will be diagnosed with one prior to turning age 65. For women who reach age 55, some 12 percent of non-smokers and 23 percent of smokers will face a critical illness before reaching age 65.

“Cancer, heart attacks and strokes happen at all ages and most people are not prepared for either the emotional or financial cost,” said Jesse Slome, executive director of the industry trade organization, in a press release. “Nearly two-thirds of U.S. bankruptcies are the result of medical expenses and 78 percent of those filing for bankruptcy had health insurance when they were first diagnosed.”

By age 35, nearly half of male tobacco users will incur a critical illness before age 65, as compared to only 35 percent of female smokers.

“Surviving a critical illness is likely today as a result of advances in emergency treatment and medical care,” Slome said. “Survival comes with a high cost even for those with health insurance which often is accompanied by co-pays, high deductibles and exclusions for various new treatments.”

Michelle Dyke, actuary with Milliman, adds, “There are substantial non-medical expenses associated with battling a critical illness including travel expenses to see specialists and lost wages that health insurance does not cover.”