Ebola: West Africa risk costs could rise

By Kate McCaffery | December 01 2014 08:00AM

The average Canadian’s exposure to Ebola virus disease (EVD), will likely be limited to the images, sometimes frightening images, of caretakers dressed in full protective quarantine suits, comforting infected infants, or managing burials in countries where 70% of those who contract the illness will die.There are a select few who will have more direct exposure, however – aid or relief workers, possibly front-line medical personnel, and some businesses owners with staff, operations, or aspects of their supply chain in West Africa.

Insurance for these cases would appear to be somewhat unaffected at the moment, but experts say there will almost certainly be discussion with underwriters to be had, particularly when the time comes to renew coverage.

“That is logical, but if you have a good plan in place, and you’re able to show underwriters that you know what you’re doing, I think you can really mitigate that,” says Randy Nornes, executive vice president with AON Risk Solutions. “At this point, I would say it’s going to be more an intense conversation, than a direct economic impact.”

ACE Ltd. was the first reinsurers to announce in October, that it was developing Ebola exclusions for use when underwriting certain risks. Others, including AON, and Epic have already developed Ebola-specific coverage.

The impact on AON’s clients so far, Nornes says, has been minimal: “We do have a few clients with employees who have been put on 21-day paid leave because of some incidental exposure, but it’s just a cost they’re assuming at this point.”

Those interested in their own business interruption coverage, meanwhile, are beginning to realize this traditional or existing coverage, is not all-encompassing.

Business interruption, for example, can leave a company exposed if operations stop for something other than listed, physical, perils. A business which needs to shut down to abide by quarantine orders, for example, likely does not have coverage to reimburse them for that contingency. Similarly for individuals, a disability or income-loss policy likely wouldn’t pay out if breadwinners or key persons are required to stay home in quarantine, simply for being on the wrong flight at a pandemic’s outbreak.

At the reinsurance level, product innovation is moving forward in response to awareness of these relatively new, potential risks.

“I don’t see a huge impact over the short run on insurance. That being said, I do think over the longer term, we’re seeing already now, we’ll see product innovation in response.”

In the past, where certain perils have been accounted for using customised coverage too, broader ranges of terror risk is another example, “you’ll start to see that become a more common discussion,” Nornes says. “Insurance will evolve to address some of these issues. It’s happening now.”

As of this writing, spread of the current Ebola outbreak would appear to be contained to West Africa, where it began back in March 2014. In August, the World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general announced the outbreak was a public health emergency of international concern.

In North America, reports say the last known Ebola patient – Dr. Craig Spencer, a physician and aid worker with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) – was deemed clear of the virus and released from hospital in mid-November.

Before that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, North American cases were limited to one U.S. “index” patient, a Liberia man who’d traveled to Dallas, Texas, and two of his health care workers. Although the initial patient died in early October, those who provided care have since recovered.

Unlike severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), or avian flu – likely the basis of the average North American’s first-hand understanding of communicable diseases – human-to-human transmission of Ebola only occurs when there is direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from an infected person.

Since initial hysteria has died down, those in decision making positions appear to be adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach before implementing or enacting next courses of action.

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA), for example, says it is monitoring information from Health Canada on the matter, and has an emergency preparedness standing committee that will be convened should the need arise.

Canada’s official response, meanwhile, has been to stop processing new visa applications for individuals who’ve travelled in affected outbreak countries within three months of their application. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will retain the ability to grant entry to the country on a case-by-case basis, “in exceptional circumstances where travel is essential and in Canada’s interest.”

The government also dedicated $27.5-million to fund research of Ebola countermeasures (vaccines, antibody treatments, and clinical trials in Africa), infection control training, and support for additional airport screening.

At this stage, Nornes says those who are most interested in the Ebola information site developed by AON, are those updating their corporate communications plans in response to the new facts. “A lot of the focus has been on communication,” he says. “How should I be prepared to deal with this?”

The website is modeled after one AON created in response to pandemic questions, back in 2009.

“At the management level, they’re putting policies and procedures in place to properly protect employees. Duty of care is the umbrella I would put that under,” he adds. “I don’t think it’s going to be a huge issue, but I think products are going to evolve to fill the needs that were made obvious by Ebola.”