RGA provides quarterly updates on global product developments, which can be made available upon request. View the Q1 2020 digital newsletter.
2020 will be remembered for COVID-19 and the impact it made around the world. The initial outbreak was in Wuhan province, China, in December 2019, but it quickly spread across the globe.
The response from life and health insurers varied around the globe, some creating additional offerings while others limiting coverage or imposing restrictions on new applications.
Insurers in Asia were quick to respond with offers of health products providing coverage for the coronavirus. The first COVID-19 offerings were valid only between two set dates within one to three months into the future. They offered a lump sum upon diagnosis. For example, in late January in China, WeSure’s first product was made available to front-line medical workers. Later, in partnership with WeChat Pay, a business disruption insurance was introduced for small- and medium-sized business owners. In February, WeSure opened COVID-19 coverage to all WeChat users.
In Southeast Asia, insurers offered health packages to existing customers affected by COVID-19. In some cases, front-line healthcare workers were offered double the amount of protection per day in appreciation of their role in the fight against COVID-19. Insurers are also offering a grace period for premiums for any customers whose lives are affected by the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to health packages, some insurers are offering Hospitalization Cash policies covering COVID-19. COVID-19 Hospital Cash policies provide a 30-day free cover and daily cash benefit for hospital confinement and a lump sum payout for intensive care unit (ICU) confinement. This Hospitalization Cash policy also provides worldwide coverage for policyholders who must travel. Another Hospital Assistance program provides three key benefits – “Urgent Self-Assistance,” “Family Assistance,” and “Hospitalization Waiver Assistance.” In some cases, an additional funeral or death benefit is offered. One major insurer has a “Non-Face-to-Face Purchasing” arrangement to help customers purchase their insurance needs from the comfort of their homes.
In India, group mediclaim policies that do not require a medical test or disclosure of travel history, irrespective of the sum insured, are offered to customers up to 75 years of age. There is even a policy designed just for shopkeepers. The digital payment platform PhonePe launched an optional benefit that covers ”virus-based pandemic diseases.” Health insurer Clinikk designed its Coronavirus Support Plan to provide customers with a 360-degree coverage of their health needs while infected with COVID-19.
In Singapore, Chubb and GrabInsure will provide a complimentary driver care benefit for all Grab driver- and delivery-partners under a Group Prolonged Medical Leave insurance policy.
In North America, insurers do not appear to have released products that directly provide coverage of COVID-19. Some U.S. life insurers are temporarily suspending applications from certain age groups. Large insurers are implementing other efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, such as setting up funds to tackle COVID-19 and help SMEs. They are also donating money to food banks. These efforts aid the most vulnerable in society as people struggle to cope in the current environment with job disruptions, school closures, and unexpected parental, childcare, and medical costs. Insurers also announced plans to cover the costs of COVID-19 testing.
One insurer expanded its employee benefits to include additional paid leave and waived co-pays for its group plans. In Canada, telephone counseling services for customers’ mental health are being offered to help people cope during these uncertain times.
In the U.K. some insurers and friendly societies are adding COVID-19 exclusions for income protection applications. Some insurers are postponing applications for at least a month for clients who are self-isolating due to symptoms or medical advice, and for those who have tested positive to COVID-19.
Vitality now offers its life and invest members the ability to speak directly with a GP and discuss any symptoms of COVID-19 they think they may have. It gives members an opportunity to raise any concerns or ask any questions about COVID-19.
NHS partnered with Headspace, an app for mediation and mindfulness, to provide all employees free subscriptions to curb rising stress and anxiety.
In continental Europe, large insurers set up funds to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and offer assistance, in particular, to SMEs. A large insurer in Italy is offering a new solution that provides: greater protection for families, even if they become unemployed, extended allowances for the use of intensive care for COVID-19 and new guarantees for dental prevention.
Telehealth has really come to the forefront. Insurers now offer telemedical consultations worldwide in conjunction with technology partners such as Whitecoat, Dialogue, Vitality, and Doctor Anywhere, amongst others. For some insurers telehealth is now a standard benefit for their group clients. Many insurers have linked up with mobile telephone operators to provide a service for their customers offering free-of-charge COVID-19 coverage. In South Africa, an online healthcare platform makes it possible for South Africans to access a healthcare professional without having to travel to a healthcare facility. The service is available on any web or mobile phone facilitating a full consultation with a doctor either through video, audio calls, or by text. In Australia and New Zealand, there is also a move toward telehealth. In New Zealand, the majority of GP clinics now provide consultations online or over the phone.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also encouraged innovation among insurers. In the U.S., a new telehealth app utilizes the IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens, which leverages currently available data from external sources. The data includes guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and local sources such as links to school closures, news, and other agencies. A large health insurer in the U.S. provides access to virtual care and is developing a coronavirus assessment via its mobile app. There is also a COVID-19 tracker application. This type of app allows users to report how they are feeling; it also contains a detailed global map tracking the virus, Twitter feeds, and real-time chat function in countries around the world.
Molina Healthcare developed a COVID-19 chatbot in association with Microsoft. It provides both general and specific guidance based on members’ responses to various questions and provides informational links. A new self-appraisal feature is available for members looking for current insight, risk factors, and live help. There are also healthcare chatbot solutions which help address consumer concerns and alleviate inundated call centers and helplines such the one developed by Perficient, Inc.
A large insurer in Hong Kong is offering a first-in-market COVID-19 Alert Service on a mobile app. Once users are within around 200 meters of buildings with probable or confirmed cases, they immediately receive mobile alerts. Customers can view cases by case number, gender, and age. This new feature combines the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer’s API data on the disease spread, Global Positioning System (GPS), and Geo-Fencing technologies.
Many insurers developed apps to help provide information on COVID-19. These include an interactive web application that forecasts the impact of COVID-19 on employee populations, a smart audio screening system for COVID-19 to strengthen epidemic control and prevention, and a digital platform for mapping, modeling, and managing the current coronavirus epidemic. In India, an insurer launched an AI-based COVID-19 symptom checker, with plans to provide free doctor consultation on-call.
A number of parametric insurance solutions have been developed. PathogenRX is an innovative solution for pandemic and epidemic risks, providing financial protection to businesses and their global operations. This product targets a large number of industries including hospitality, travel and tourism, retail/wholesale food and beverage, and education. Surprisingly, to date there have been no takers for this product.
Parametric insurance products for business disruption are also offered by Lloyds, Aon, and Third Point Re. Third Point Re offers pandemic reinsurance that includes event cancellation, nonappearance, life catastrophe excess of loss, and travel excess of loss. Aon created a parametric product that provided a specified insurance payout if an event like a pandemic causes a decrease in average hotel bookings during the coverage period. The payment is triggered by a reduction in hotel room revenue compared to historical averages. Lloyd's launched a new parametric profit protection policy for the hotel industry. The new product protects hotels from lost profits, for example, due to unexpected events occurring within their market that are outside the control of the hotel.
At the moment, the industry seems to be very responsive. We are, however, in unknown territory due to the differences in each individual country’s response to the pandemic. The effect of this pandemic has long-reaching tentacles throughout the world.
At present, business interruption policies do not provide cover for infectious diseases, and those that do usually exclude unknown viruses like COVID-19. Health products that are offered appear to cater to the “here and now.” We have seen some insurers set up a special claims management process which relaxes requirements and accelerates settlement of claims.
Insurers will also need to pay more attention to the mental health of their customers and adjust their offerings to meet future demand dependent on how long the lockdowns in each country last. There are many ripple effects that will emerge from COVID-19; some will be short-term, while others will have a long-term impact. We are already seeing coverage changes and exclusions, as well as limiting face-to-face underwriting practices, but the impact on people’s lifestyles and well-being are yet to be seen. The industry as a whole may need to evaluate how they capitalize for pandemic risks going forward once this pandemic subsides.
Stay tuned for future releases of our quarterly newsletter to see where the next innovations will take us.