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What Ebola means for the insurance industry over the long term

The primary impact of the Ebola epidemic “crisis” on U.S. property and casualty insurers will be on companies writing workers compensation insurance, according to a new study by the Insurance Information Institute.

In a paper written by Dr. Steven Weisbart, senior vice president & chief economist, the III said the WC category will likely be most affected because health-care workers could be most directly exposed (as happened in Texas and in several African countries).

Other possible effects might be on various liability insurance lines, such as general liability, directors & officers (D&O) liability and medical malpractice (Med Mal) liability, Weisbart said in his paper.

Weisbart said that WC would be primarily impacted because it pays for the cost of medical care and lost income for people who become ill in the course of their work, and pays death benefits if they die from a work-related cause.

“As with life insurance, it is unlikely that many workers in the main affected African countries have workers compensation-type coverages,” he said.

Citing the latest Swiss Re report, Weisbart said that the level of premiums per capita for all non-life insurance coverages combined (not just WC) in the three most-affected countries” is so low as to not be listed.”

In the United States, by contrast, Weisbart said, WC coverage is nearly universal, but the likelihood of claims is low, assuming that employers and their workers take CDC-recommended precautions.

He also notes that, as with life insurance coverage, “reinsurance will help mitigate the financial effect of a surge in claims, which are likely to be very costly in the event of actual work-related infections.”

Weisbart’s report was issued last week.

However, Dallas officials moved to reduce U.S. anxiety about the impact of the issue on the U.S.

Dallas officials said last Monday that dozens of people off the Ebola watch list pose “zero risk” and pleaded for compassion as those people re-enter society, including children returning to school.

“They’ve been through an incredible ordeal, and they’re people who need our compassion, our respect and our love,” said Clay Jenkins, the top elected official in Dallas County.

Forty-three people passed through a three-week monitoring period without showing Ebola symptoms. Those people had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first man to die of Ebola in the United States, around the time he was put in isolation Sept. 28.

In his report, Weisbart said that, “at this stage,” it is impossible to forecast the precise number of such claims or the amounts of damages that might be sought.

“That said, assuming the Center for Disease Control’s protocols are successfully followed, the number of Ebola cases should be small, thereby limiting the number and likelihood of tort actions that can impact various liability coverages,” Weisbart concluded.

As for the total world impact, Weisbart said that as of Oct. 10, the Ebola virus has infected at least 8,399 people and killed 4,035, according to the World Health Organization. This includes 4,762 confirmed cases, 2,196 probable cases and 1,652 suspected cases.

He said that as of Oct. 10, all but four of the cases were in four countries in Africa (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria). One was in Senegal, one in Spain, and (as of Oct. 12) two in the United States.

There are five known strains of the Ebola virus, Weisbart said in his study. The one causing the illness and deaths noted above is the Zaire strain, which was identified in 1976, he said.

Weisbart also said that there is currently no cure and no vaccine for this virus. Treatment is isolation (to prevent spread) and focus on symptoms—mainly dialysis and fluids to prevent dehydration and reduce fever. He also said that the mortality rate of infected people to date is roughly 50 percent.

Are your employees covered in-case of Ebola? Contact PRIME to see how we can assist you.

PRIME [at] primeins [dot] com


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