What the Ebola crisis means for insurance

by Maryvonne Gray 08 Aug 2014

What the Ebola crisis means for insurance

The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus has not left the Western world untouched, with two Americans back in the US from Liberia receiving treatment and a scare this week at London’s Gatwick airport. In addition to widespread concerns on the safety of travel, the virus has also led some to reevaluate the importance of some lines of insurance.

It’s certainly a validated concern – the cost of medical evacuation from a foreign area can run into tens of thousands of dollars if a specialist medical aircraft specially built for that purpose is required.

The need for so-called medevac insurance can be paramount when travellers need to leave a remote area immediately.

Of course, for casual travellers, the insurance policy may not make much sense. It is simpler to just cancel or postpone overseas trips than to invest in what could be a costly coverage.

Head of consumer lines for AIG NZ, Julian Travaglia told Insurance Business if there was public and/or media awareness of an outbreak of a condition like the Ebola virus in a location a customer was planning to travel to, the customer would be covered for the lost deposit for that trip or the reasonable cost to amend their travel.

Information about the destination country can be found at www.safetravel.govt.nz. If the destination is given a Government advisory ‘extreme risk’ warning and the customer still chooses to travel to that location, they would do so at their own risk and forfeit their cover.

Travaglia says: “As with all insurance, our travel insurance policy does not provide cover for risks or events that are not unforeseen.”

Many generalist travel insurance policies that include medical evacuation may have certain conditions imposed, stressing the importance of reading the fine print.

For example there may be limits on claims either directly or indirectly linked to terrorism; some policies may have limits to the cost allowed for a medevac flight – if the client requires the specialist aircraft as opposed to just a commercial flight they may be left with considerable costs to meet. Also, a top up may be required in the case of a pre-existing medical condition.

Some medevac policies do not necessarily guarantee return to New Zealand, instead specifying transportation to the nearest ‘qualified medical facility.’ That leaves clients on their own in terms of arranging for travel – something they may not be fit to do if they’re lying in a hospital bed.

Travaglia, points out there may be good reason for this: “In the case of a customer contracting the Ebola virus, this would require the use of a specialist medical facility that can quarantine and treat the virus – these facilities are unlikely to be in New Zealand.”
 
He says one benefit of using their policies is that AIG get actively involved in providing assistance and in this case the medical evacuation and the referral to the most appropriate medical facility would be arranged by TravelGuard – AIG’s worldwide travel assistance company.

It’s recommended that producers go over travel and travel health insurance with clients before an overseas trip, and locate proper medical services near their destination for reference in a worst-case scenario.
Clients should carry copies of their insurance policy identity cards with them when they travel, including any supplemental insurance purchased.

Travaglia adds: “For remote and disease-ridden areas, people should certainly speak to a doctor prior to travel to ensure they the appropriate vaccinations.

“We always recommend that people check their policy cover before they travel, but also ensure that they are aware of the risks they face when travelling and how these can be mitigated.”