Ebola and Insurance

As the Ebola epidemic in Africa begins affecting U.S. residents, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) posted a comprehensive fact sheet on Ebola and its effects on U.S. insurers on its website, indicating that even if the virus spreads to infect thousands of adults in the United States, the insurance industry could financially withstand the crisis. I.I.I. economist Dr. Steven Weisbart has assembled data and analysis in this report, which looks at the pandemic from an insurance perspective. About 33 percent of U.S. adults have life insurance through their employers, with typical coverage equal to one year's income; and another 33 percent of adults have individual life insurance with average death claims of about $200,000. Treating Ebola patients, however, could end up at the high end of health insurance claims, and the cost for insurers in that sector would depend on the size of the outbreak. Other insurance sectors possibly affected by an Ebola outbreak would be workers' compensation, general liability and medical malpractice.

Leading companies offering medical evacuation services are drawing a line at flying Ebola patients out of West Africa for treatment abroad, as the cost and complexities of the deadly epidemic grow. Several airlines have cut flights to the region and there are reports of countries not allowing air ambulances to make refueling stops. Two leading companies in the field, medical assistance company International SOS and insurance firm Allianz Worldwide Care, have recently said they will not provide medivac services for patients with Ebola symptoms.

Insurance companies often provide medical evacuation as a routine part of international workers' compensation and/or health insurance policies, but the evacuation option may not apply in the case of an epidemic.

"This is a major coverage matter for all workers' compensation and/or health and medical care policies that include coverage for international and/or catastrophic medical coverage," said PIA National Senior Vice President Patricia A. Borowski. "While individual policies still may cover such medical evacuation services, the point may be moot if these carriers needed for evacuation decline to provide such services."

The last time Ebola caused insurance coverage concerns was in 1976, when the first outbreak of this virus occurred in Africa.  Fortunately at that time, the disease was successfully contained to several isolated areas of Zaire, now called the Congo. However, this outbreak is moving faster and wider than before.

Borowski advised that, "We'd suggest that PIA member-agencies check with their insurers and that businesses and individuals review their health/medical insurance coverage as it applies to both international travel and domestic events.  While not common, does your coverage currently exclude epidemics or pandemics?  Also, what coverage do you already have available for airlifts to needed medical facilities, either internationally or domestically?"




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