21st Century’s Pandemic/ diseases/ viruses
New pandemic/viruses threats and preparedness by the insurer
There is an increasing threat of global pandemic with the increasing number of new mutant viruses that were never seen before. After the Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918, that killed more than 50 million people, governments across the world are very vigilant about such pandemics. Other global pandemics that occurred in the last decade are SARS, Avian Flu and Swine Flu. Several Asian countries have urged for an enhanced vigilance on H7N9 virus since its recent outbreak infecting over 125 people in China. A new kind of Coronavirus (a strain of virus from the family that caused SARS in 2003) is aggravating in the Middle East. Since 2009, more than 2000 cases of H1N1 cases have been reported in Malaysia. Although the risk of an outbreak becoming pandemic is low, governments/care providers have to be cautious about such progression. There has been a decrease in reported cases partly due to increasing preparedness and partly due to the greater availability of vaccines and drugs. Since the outbreak of H1N1 in 2009, the Life Insurance Association of Malaysia has announced that all the 16 insurance companies under this association will pay for the claims arising from deaths/hospitalisation due to H1N1. However, it is important to know that not every country in APAC covers or reimburses for immunisation against influenza. In fact Indonesia and India do not have any national influenza immunisation initiatives. Below is an exhibit of countries and their influenza immunisation reimbursement status as of 2012. There are very few reimbursement policies for influenza immunisation in APAC. Preventative Vaccination (PV) is not recommended under guidelines by the respective country’s ministries of health in APAC. Specifically for people 50 years of age, it is currently recommended only for high risk people and people who are 65 years of age. PV is seen as one of the important methods by experts to contain the spread of influenza which can potentially lead to pandemic. It is important to have wider insurance coverage for PV against pandemic diseases
Implications, for insurers, without covering PV: Higher claims due to hospitalisation/death of pandemic victims Wider coverage of insurance covering pandemic diseases
Higher claims due to precautionary health check-ups The cost per person incurred to pay for treatment of or death due to such pandemic diseases is a lot higher for insurers
compared to costs incurred to pay for the vaccines. According to a cost benefit analysis study done by Zhao GM, Department of Epidemiology in China, influenza H1N1 vaccine could protect against influenza H1N1 infection with a cost-benefit ratio of 2.24:1. That means covering a patient for treatment of influenza would cost 2.24 times that of vaccinating the person. Therefore, there is a need to reach out to stakeholders such as insurance companies and health policy makers in order to make PV available for people in general in pandemic prone areas. Historically, it is seen that pandemics usually start from low levels of public health and they quickly spread to advanced countries. The rapid spread of such diseases can be attributed to increasing mass air travel (both domestically and internationally) and the inability (by public officials and healthcare providers) to contain the virus. It is very important to get the ‘right’ drugs into the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time. The surge in potential pandemic causing viruses has spurred the investment in discovery and mass manufacturing of vaccines and drugs. Techniques such as DNA sequencing and mathematical modelling are used to predict the mutations of such deadly viruses. While several experts say that a global pandemic, especially influenza, in the near term is possible however it is impossible to predict as to “when” it would occur. Therefore it is important for several stakeholders to be prepared in advance of such events. Stricter vigilance by public officials and wider coverage by insurers are a few steps that might have to be taken.