Health

Coronavirus victims lose insurance rights after WHO pandemic notice

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Nurses wear protective gear at Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi where an isolation and treatment centre for the new coronavirus was set up on March 6, 2020. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

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Summary

  • Standard medical insurance typically excludes epidemics and pandemics, meaning victims of the disease will not be able to recoup coronavirus-related expenses.
  • Kenya has confirmed its first coronavirus case.

Insurance firms will not meet medical bills for victims of the deadly coronavirus after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the disease a pandemic.

Standard medical insurance typically excludes epidemics and pandemics, meaning victims of the disease will not be able to recoup coronavirus-related expenses.

The Association of Kenya Insurers (AKI) said the classification of the disease as pandemic indicates that victims will settle their own bills if cases are reported Kenya.

Kenya reported its first case of the coronavirus on Friday even as the country remains on high alert in the wake of the disease spreading in 12 African countries.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe on Friday said the patient is a Kenyan who travelled from US via London.

He said that although patient, a Kenyan, is stable and eating, she will not be released from hospital until she is confirmed negative. The woman is at Kenyatta National Hospital's Infectious Disease Unit.

The government says it has traced all contacts the patient made since her arrival.

“If there was to be a major attack then all insurance companies will close shop. The claims will wipe the insurers out completely. That is why such exclusions are put in insurance policies,” said Tom Gichuhi, the AKI chief executive.

More than 126,000 people have been infected globally by the virus and more than 4,600 have died. The disease has spread to 122 countries, prompting the WHO to label the outbreak a pandemic.

In Kenya, medical insurance remains a loss-making segment due to price undercutting, fraud and high hospital bills. Medical insurers’ underwriting loss doubled to Sh1 billion in 2018.

“People need to understand that it is not about running away from contractual responsibilities. It is only government which can step in with resources,” Mr Gichuki said.

Only a few insurers are responding to travellers’ agony by giving a limited window on claims.

Allianz Travel Insurance is, for instance, allowing customers to make claims for some coronavirus-related medical care.

The only way around would be to buy a new and more expensive add-on product, called ‘cancel-for-any-reason’ insurance. This will cover those who cancel trips due to the virus.

The virus has curtailed movement of people with scores of businesses shutting down plants and stores, hurting global trade.

Kenya’s Ministry of Health banned all international conferences and meetings effective last week Friday.