ICU (Photo: Thinkstock) Critical illness insurance policies protect the insureds against diseases and conditions specified in the policies. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The U.S. market for a relatively new supplemental health product, critical illness insurance, continues to grow.

Premiums from new sales of the product through voluntary benefits and worksite marketing programs increased to $627 million in 2017, up 15 percent from the 2016 total, according to LIMRA.

Related: Help your clients better understand critical illness insurance

The premium total for new critical illness insurance sales was up from $544 million in 2016, and up from $294 million in 2014.

Analysts at LIMRA based the latest critical illness insurance sales figures on results from the organization’s latest U.S. Worksite/Voluntary Sales Survey. Forty-seven insurers participated in the survey.

Analysts also found, based on data from a different survey, that the share of employers offering critical illness insurance benefits of some kind increased to 24 percent in 2017. That’s up from 23 percent in 2014, and up from 21 percent in 2009.

Critical illness insurance policies protect the insureds against diseases and conditions specified in the policies. A typical policy might pay a flat amount of cash to an insured diagnosed with a triggering condition, such as cancer, a heart attack, or a stroke.

Many workers use critical illness insurance as a supplement to major medical insurance.

Some people who cannot afford major medical illness insurance try to use products such as critical illness insurance, hospital indemnity insurance and accident insurance to compensate for lack of major medical coverage.

When Affordable Care Act major medical benefits requirements and underwriting rules took effect, in January 2014, the rules expanded many people’s access to major medical coverage, but the rules also led to an increase in deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance amounts for many insured people.

Some speculated that the big increase in out-of-pocket costs would boost demand for gap-filler products.

The new LIMRA figures suggest that workers have been using critical illness insurance to fill in only a small portion of their coverage gaps.

About 78 percent of full-time workers participating in LIMRA surveys have said that they at least occasionally live paycheck to paycheck,  but only 38 percent of the workers offered critical illness insurance take up the product, according to LIMRA analysts.

A full copy of the LIMRA critical illness insurance update is available here.