Travel insurance providers are preparing for an uptick in
Zika-related inquiries and claims, and are already beginning to field some calls
related to it.
What most callers will be told is that in most cases only
a “cancel for any reason” policy would cover trip cancellations due to Zika,
and travel advisories, such as the one issued by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), about Zika have no bearing on insurance policies.
Dean Sivley, president of Berkshire Hathaway Travel
Protection, said his company had not seen a large amount of calls as of last
week, only around 20, and added that no claims had yet been filed.
“But we’re expecting a lot more calls in the coming
weeks,” Sivley said.
With that in mind, Berkshire Hathaway has trained its
call-center employees with information on the virus, including where and how it
"The fear of catching Zika isn’t a reason for cancellation." — Issac Cymrot, Travel Insured International
As of last week, Allianz Global Assistance had received
around 300 calls related to Zika, with about 100 claims filed, according to
director of communications Dan Durazo. He said that number of claims was
“relatively small.” In contrast, he said Allianz received around 1,000 claims
after the January winter storm that blanketed the Mid-Atlantic and East Coast
in up to three feet of snow.
Similarly, Isaac Cymrot, vice president of industry
relations at Travel Insured International, said the company has had a “small
increase” in calls related to Zika, but “we have not seen a significant
increase in claims filed attributable to Zika.”
Most insurance policies would not cover the cancellation
of trips to countries where Zika is being transmitted unless they have a
“cancel for any reason” policy in place, something Sivley estimated that is
added onto policies “less than 10% of the time.”
However, both Allianz and Travel Insured International
offer insurance products that allow travelers who get pregnant after purchasing
a policy to cancel their trip without penalty.
Travel advisories and alerts on their own do not allow a
policy holder to cancel a trip for that reason, unless they have cancel-for-any-reason insurance.
“The fear of something happening isn’t covered in the
policy — there has to be an actual incident that occurs,” Cymrot said. “The
fear of catching Zika isn’t a reason for cancellation.”
As for travelers who become infected with Zika while on a
trip, Stan Sandberg, cofounder of trip insurance comparison website
TravelInsurance.com, said most providers are treating Zika “as any other
illness in the respective plan’s terms and conditions,” and if their policy has
a medical component, they would be covered.
As of last Thursday, active transmission of the
mosquito-borne virus had been identified in 26 countries in Central and South
America, according to the CDC, as well as in American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga and
Cape Verde, Africa. There also have been reports of the virus’ spread through
sexual contact and blood transfusion, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends pregnant women postpone travel to
countries with active Zika transmission. In most people, Zika infection causes
fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis, but it poses the greatest risk to
pregnant women. The virus is suspected to be linked to neurological disorders
in babies whose mothers are infected while pregnant. It is also suspected to be
linked to some cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The World Health Organization last week named the virus,
combined with clusters of neurological disorders, an international public
health emergency, but it did not find a public health justification for
restrictions on travel or trade to prevent its spread.