In a recent report by the New York Times, a couple who cancelled their travel insurance and trip to South America – a hotbed for Zika virus – was denied of their claim for Trip Cancellation. News of Zika virus was not announced at the time of their purchase and the spread of Zika virus only came to light as they approach closer to their departure date. Their obstetrician advised against the trip as the virus could harm their unborn child if the mother is infected. 

In light of this situation, could they have secured better coverage through an International Health Insurance plan? What can be covered through such plans and what are the shortcomings of a Travel Insurance plan when it comes to coverages for Zika viral infection?

GoBear talks to Pacific Prime Singapore to understand the scope of coverage for Zika virus infection and other related pandemic diseases under International Health Insurance and Travel Insurance plans.

1.  Does International Health insurance plan cover treatment/ hospitalisation involving Zika?

While many insurance providers exclude coverage for diseases deemed to be pandemics/epidemics, there are international private medical insurance providers that will cover hospitalisations and treatment related to Zika virus infection.

2.  If so, what kind of plans or what policies should we look out for that ensure we get covered?

Plan specifics vary between insurance companies, so there isn’t necessarily a one-kind-fits-all plan that relates to coverage not just for Zika but also Dengue, Chikungunya or any other diseases.

The best way to find out which plan is best for you would be to compare insurance plans or consult an insurance broker from Pacific Prime Singapore.

3. Does coverage for diseases like Zika fall under the health clauses in a travel insurance plan – eg. If you only discover your infection two weeks after your trip, would you be covered for medical expenses?

Travelling to an area where Zika virus is actively being transmitted will make it highly unlikely that treatment related to Zika will be covered by travel insurance. Even if you are travelling elsewhere, virtually all travel insurance policies will exclude coverage for pandemics. What’s more, travel insurance companies are often inclined to repatriate a patient if possible, at which time, any coverage extended by a travel policy will likely end. There is also a burden placed upon the patient to prove that they were infected overseas, rather than at home, to make sure they are reimbursed for medical costs abroad.

Really, the best way to ensure health insurance coverage for Zika virus is with an International Health Insurance plan, which will provide treatment in virtually any country or medical facility worldwide.

4. If you have been infected with Zika before, would you require underwriting if you buy a health plan after an infection?

Some insurers would exclude it from coverage as a pre-existing condition. However, after a moratorium period where the insured has remained free of Zika infection, they would likely be eligible for coverage again.

While there is still a lot to learn about Zika virus, whatever disease you may contract, some insurance providers may recognise that you will be immune to a disease following an infection and may not place restrictions on you.

5. GoBear users are curious about contracting diseases from overseas and wanted to know more about the level of insurance protection. Eg. Would there be any differences in the scope of insurance coverage for Zika and SARS infection?

I think this is more in relation to government agency advising against travelling to high-risk countries but sometimes because of work, you still have to go – how does that work out for the person and his choice of insurance plan?

Most of the time, people travelling to a known hotbed of serious infectious diseases will be doing so at their own risk, as insurers could exclude coverage for treatment in such a situation. Whatever the disease may be, it generally does not make a difference. However, due to the nature of the Zika virus at this point in time, there are insurers that have not excluded it even though it is considered a pandemic. It seems that the specific symptoms and risks of a given disease are being taken into account by insurance companies, though we have no evidence that this is what is happening in this case.

6. Please advise on the kinds of diseases or infections not covered by International Health Insurance plans.

First and foremost, perhaps the most common exclusion isn’t a specific disease so much as any disease you had before. Pre-existing conditions are quite commonly excluded from private medical insurance plans of all kinds. Beyond this there could be any number of specific conditions and diseases that may be excluded from a given policy, but it’s the specific details of a particular plan that matter the most here. For example, some plans may not exclude Zika, but they may exclude treatments rendered while in a ‘quarantine’ area or ward of a hospital.

It would be advisable to really dig into the details of any current or potential health insurance policies to make sure that you know what is and is not covered. Even though one insurance policy may not provide full coverage for cancer treatment, another policy from the same insurer will. Often, it really just boils down to ‘you get what you pay for.’

7. For pregnant women who have international health insurance, will complications in pregnancy due to Zika or any other diseases like dengue, SARS or birth flu be covered under a normal plan (no maternity cost covers) or under pregnancy related cost? Simply put, if a pregnant woman does not have maternity insurance but contracts Zika and the child is affected, would their medical bills be covered? 

At this time, we are not aware of any maternity insurance plans that provide coverage for Zika-related complications, though this is thankfully not a case that we would have had in Singapore so far. Those that are pregnant or think they may become pregnant should do their utmost to avoid Zika infection. Other pandemics are likely to be excluded from maternity insurance plans in the same manner as private health insurance plans.

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