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Covid-19 and insurance for Society members

30 June, 2020

Author: Dean Rogers, SoR director of industrial strategy

Members have raised concerns about the impact Covid-19 may have on insurance products such as holiday and travel, as well as life assurance policies.

The SoR are working with other NHS unions to understand the actual position and, if necessary, lobby employers and government to encourage insurers to support NHS staff.

Whilst we seek clarity, the position remains uncertain and confused. The following is our current advice:

All policies
The insurance industry is reeling from heavy losses sustained because of the lockdown, preceded by a costly period of weather related claims, such as the flooding during the winter months.

The industry is reassessing risks and is likely to be highly cautious. Covid-19 is a relatively new virus with many unknowns and, as such, is a risk which is very difficult to assess.

The industry largely runs on a commercial basis, with relatively limited government regulation or control, so it is difficult to force the industry to act in a particular way. The unions are working with employers and asking government to encourage support for NHS staff.

Our argument is that NHS staff are critical to national wellbeing. It is not in the national interest to put people off working in the NHS by preventing them from, for example, getting life assurance to cover a mortgage.
 
The insurance industry is highly competitive and we think a way forward to ensure affordable cover is available will be found.

Mortgages
Lenders typically require borrowers to take out adequate life assurance to cover the mortgage repayments in the event of death, or critical illness.

Holidays and travel
Holiday insurance will be more difficult to find and is likely to include Covid-19 exclusions. Few, if any, reputable insurers will cover people travelling to areas against current Foreign Office advice.

Antibody testing
Perhaps the most confusing aspect is around antibody tests and the specific suggestion that some could be refused insurance if they had been tested for and/or found to have anti-bodies.

The SoR are not aware of any specific examples of such practice but if any member has this experience, please inform the Society and we shall raise it with regulators and government.

The best evidence currently suggests that antibody tests are not necessarily accurate. Because the virus is new, there is also uncertainty about how long antibodies last and if they are effective in preventing future infection.

However, antibody tests could have benefits, not least in helping the learning around the virus, so any moves that discourages staff from taking the antibody tests would be unwelcome.

It seems absurd to suggest someone should be denied insurance because of the presence of antibodies, versus someone who hasn’t been identified as having antibodies who have or have not been tested.

In the past, there have also been examples of hysteria around virus tests which have also proved to be discriminatory, such as HIV testing. Insurers should consider reflecting and learning from these historic situations.

The trade unions representing NHS staff, including the SoR, will continue monitoring the situation and advise members.

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