File picture: Mark Humphrey/AP
File picture: Mark Humphrey/AP

Coronavirus: what to know about insurance cover

By Georgina Crouth and Martin Hesse Time of article published Mar 7, 2020

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It used to be said that when America sneezes, the world catches a cold. But as we wake up to the virulence of Covid-19, the knock-on contagion from China is stoking global fear. Fashion shows, sporting events and conferences are being cancelled or postponed, staff are being told to work from home, and panicked consumers are stockpiling masks, medicines and shelf-stable foods.

Travel and trade restrictions have been put in place, countries have increased surveillance at entry points, while business and leisure travellers are being advised either to cancel or delay their trips.

At the time of writing, the first case of coronavirus in South Africa had just been confirmed.

Travel insurance

Old Mutual’s insurance spokesperson, Christelle Coleman, says: “Many companies are telling their staff ‘no business travel for at least the next six months’, and that private travel should only be in exceptional, life-or-death, cases.

“If you decide to cancel a trip, you typically get around 50% back of your ticket price. If the government issues a travel warning, or the airline cancels the flight, you’ll get 100% of your money back.”

Travel insurance covers all aspects of your trip, from cancellations to support services. For bookings to Covid-19 hot spots, you may be able to cancel your trip and receive a full refund. But if you’re cancelling simply out of coronavirus fears, the only travel insurance plans that are helpful are those that allow cancellations “for any reason” - although these can cost up to 75% of the plane ticket price.

This week, Hollard launched tailor-made coronavirus cover for travellers, named Covid-19, which adds Covid-19-related elements to Hollard Travel.

The additional cover reimburses clients for Covid-19 testing, flight and event cancellations, travel curtailment, flight delays due to medical emergencies on board, and penalties to change airline tickets.

Life cover

Closer to home, how will you and your family be covered if you contract the virus?

“As a rule of thumb, your life policy should pay out if you die from something like the coronavirus in your home country,” says the chief executive of MiWayLife, Craig Baker. “You need to check for things like geographies that may be excluded by your life insurance policy and the type of work that you do if, for example, you have an occupation that could put you at high risk for something like the coronavirus.”

Typically, life insurers plan for epidemics and pandemic risks, says Marius Botha, the managing director of life insurer Stangen.

“Policies for our existing customers will not be affected by the outbreak,” Botha says. “But for new customers and sales, we’re working with our reinsurers to understand the progression of the disease. New clients must disclose if they might have the virus, so we can refer them for review. Coronavirus is an elevated or emerging risk - and we don’t believe in acting prematurely.”

For group benefits, employers must examine what occupational disability and business interruption plans are in place. Botha says if contracting the virus results in a temporary disability, and staff have used their sick leave, such products would pay out.

Medical scheme cover

To what extent will your medical scheme cover you?

In a recent release, Dr Sipho Kabane, the chief executive and registrar of the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS), says that if you contract the virus and it progresses to the extent that there are life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia and respiratory failure, you should be treated at a prescribed minimum benefit (PMB) level of care. This means that, subject to your medical scheme referring you to designated service providers, it will cover all costs from your risk benefit.

In cases of uncomplicated infection where there are no PMB-eligible conditions, the scheme may fund all healthcare costs according to its rules, the CMS says.

“All medical schemes are required by law to pay for the diagnosis, treatment and care costs of PMB conditions in full irrespective of plan type or option. They are not allowed to fund PMB conditions from a member’s medical savings account, as this is not in line with the PMB regulations,” says Dr Kabane.

He says high-risk individuals - members with pre-existing conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes mellitus, asthma, cancer, HIV and other immunosuppressive conditions - are urged to keep up with their routine medication and screenings. Individuals over the age of 50 and children under 10 years are also vulnerable.

“Of concern is the fact that the virus can be spread by individuals who show no symptoms of the infection,” says Dr Kabane.

“We therefore encourage all who have travelled to areas with confirmed cases, or have come into close contact with someone who has travelled, and thereafter experience flu-like symptoms and a fever, to seek immediate medical attention.”

Medical scheme members are encouraged to contact their schemes on their benefit option entitlements if they experience flu-like symptoms. All testing for the coronavirus should be referred to state laboratories, not private laboratories.

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