Eric Blondeel was lying on a hospital gurney, moments away from surgery, when an unsettling question occurred to him:
What if I die on the table?
It was August, 2020 and he had just left a job, along with the group coverage that came with it. He had a new mortgage.
In the end, Blondeel was fine – the operation at Kitchener’s Grand River Hospital went well, as they do for most people. But the experience left him wondering how many other uninsured people just like him were out there asking themselves, “what if?”
Blondeel has set out to answer that question through Samos Insurance, a Waterloo-based company he founded last year, and is launching for clients in Ontario today. Samos is billing itself as “the world’s first surgical accidental death insurance.”
At a cost of $90 to $150 for a typical, one-time-use policy, Samos clients can cover themselves for up to $100,000 against the risk of accidental death from a planned surgery – a scheduled caesarean section, joint replacement, heart surgery or common cancer procedure, for example.
All it takes is a five-minute application, completed at least 48 hours before admission to hospital; no medical exam is required and coverage is available to patients who might not qualify for other insurance products (including those who are excluded for pre-existing medical conditions).
Currently wrapping up a stint in the Winter 2022 cohort of California accelerator Y Combinator, Samos is aiming its offering at uninsured or under-insured people facing surgery, a market worth an estimated $15 billion across North America annually. The company says roughly one-third of Canadians have no life insurance at all, while about half benefit from group life policies but lack additional coverage that would protect them during surgeries.
“At Samos, we aim to fill a gap in many Canadians’ insurance coverage or help top-up their existing policies,” Blondeel said. “Surveys show many Canadians worry their families could not pay rent, mortgage or other bills if they suddenly passed away.”
While doctors in Canada perform more than a million surgical procedures each year, most of which are safe and successful, “every surgery and medical procedure involves some risk,” he said. “And Samos Insurance offers peace of mind instead of ‘what if?’”
After his own surgery, Blondeel – who holds a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Waterloo and previously co-founded medtech startup Kenota Health (formerly ExVivo Labs) – figured that if you can buy travel insurance to cover a brief time period with so many variables, why not for something as regulated and statistically predictable as surgery?
He then teamed up with fellow UW alumnus and health data veteran Matt Eggertson, and Leon Punambolam, a veteran of the insurance industry, to develop a proprietary underwriting model for surgical risks.
That model informs the product Samos is now offering, through brokers and employer benefit plans, and backed by Berkley Insurance.