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Coronavirus: some insurance questions answered

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Declarations of insurance catastrophes haven’t been all that uncommon over the past six months, but the COVID-19 outbreak is unlike anything that has gone before.

While we can stretch to defining the coronavirus outbreak as a catastrophe, this particular declaration isn’t based on a large volume of claims – no one has the faintest idea what claim numbers will eventually look like – but on the importance of delivering “consistent messages”.

Confusion reigns in many areas, so has spoken to the experts and put together the following guide summarising how different types of insurance are affected, and how they will respond to coronavirus.

Travel insurance

This is probably the most concerning – and confusing – area for consumers, as different insurers will react in different ways to both medical expenses incurred overseas, and trip cancellations.

The easy answer is “check your policy”, but there’s wide variations between insurers. Some have gone beyond their policy wordings, which may be helpful for their customers, but could also add to the confusion.

Many policies have a general exclusion barring any claims arising from an actual or likely epidemic or pandemic, or a threat of an epidemic or pandemic. That’s not good news to people who are relying on their insurance cover, but at least it’s easy to understand.

However, not all travel policies include the pandemic exclusion. Almost all will exclude claims relating to a “known event”, but insurers don’t seem able to agree on when COVID-19 gained this status. Dates range from January 20 to January 31.

If the Government enacts a “do not travel” warning for certain locations but you go ahead and travel anyway, claims will likely be excluded.

On the flip side, when it comes to cancellation, consumers deciding not to travel in the absence of a government directive will almost certainly not be able to claim.

As has previously reported, there are concerns that for the traveller, cover becomes something of a lottery.

Now COVID-19 is known about, it’s too late. And if someone arranged insurance prior to the outbreak, would they realistically have taken the time to scour a range of product disclosure statements to compare pandemic-related exclusions?

Business interruption

It’s a similar story with business interruption – policies vary widely but most will exclude claims relating to coronavirus.

As Sedgwick’s Leon Briggs told, you can understand why insurers wouldn’t want to be on the hook for something that could affect almost every business in the land.

ICA says “some specific policies may differ” but the majority are likely to contain exclusions relating to losses caused by diseases notifiable under the Quarantine Act or the Biosecurity Act.

Event cancellation

Sports events, music festivals and industry conferences have all fallen victim to the virus, but most event cancellation policies contain a communicable diseases exclusion.

An extension can be written in, but now the outbreak is a “known event” it is impossible to get cover specifically for COVID-19.

Specialist underwriting agency Sportscover told most customers didn’t have the foresight to arrange such an extension.

Even if insureds arranged communicable disease coverage prior to the outbreak, insurers are unlikely to pay claims if an event cancellation is based on a decision by organisers, rather than a clear direction by authorities.

The Federal Government’s declaration on Friday that gatherings must be limited to 500 people could therefore have some implications.

Workers’ compensation

There are concerns COVID-19 could cause a rush of workers’ compensation claims and associated premium rises.

If an employee can show that their job significantly contributed to them contracting the virus, then a claim could be made.

NSW’s State Insurance Regulatory Authority says each claim should be considered on its individual merits.

It says consideration may be given to a range of work-related activities like travel to an area with a known viral outbreak, or interaction with people who have contracted the virus.

Life insurance

A statement from the life insurance industry, issued by the Financial Services Council (FSC), confirms that pandemic exclusions commonly found in general insurance are not present in life policies.

“There are no exclusions in existing life insurance policies that would prevent the policy paying out for a claim related to coronavirus if you follow government travel advice,” the FSC says.

“No-one should be concerned about their existing life insurance policies.”