Our recent report on how travel insurance deals with hurricanes generated interest in the related question about dealing with swine flu. The short answer is, “In much the same way insurers deal with hurricanes—as little as possible.” Problems related to swine flu—or any other epidemic—actually involve three major components of travel insurance. Here’s what I’ve learned about policies from seven of the biggest travel insurance suppliers.
Basically, trip-cancellation and trip-interruption (TCI) insurance refunds any payments you can’t first recover from suppliers if you cancel or curtail your vacation for a “covered” reason—a reason specifically listed in the insurers’ contracts. But, in the case of swine flu, I didn’t find any companies that would reimburse you if you cancel because you’re worried about contracting flu in an area, even when you know flu is prevalent there. In fact, many companies specifically exclude coverage due strictly to fear or worry:
- Travel Guard, for example, says, “Travel Guard insurance plans do not allow you to cancel for the fear of contracting the swine flu. If you have a trip planned in Mexico and are now afraid to go, this would generally not be covered.” Moreover, the company specifically states that it does not cover cancellation even for trips to places cited in official government warnings or cautions.
- Travel Insured International was equally specific: “Travel Insured International provides Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption coverage for specific events listed in the Description of Coverage for our plans. Swine flu is not one of those events and it is not a reason supported by Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption under any Travel Insured International plans.” Travel Insured also says “There is no coverage for fear of traveling to a specific region.”
- And from Travelex: “Insured customers that are considering cancellation or have canceled arrangements due to travel restrictions, warnings or general fear of traveling, whether to Mexico or elsewhere, are not eligible for cash reimbursement under the provisions of the plan.”
Other companies generally follow the same lines. As far as I can tell, then, no conventional TCI will cover you if you decide you don’t want to risk traveling to an area where flu (or any other epidemic) is reported. You’re covered for interruption only if you take your trip and actually contract the flu. Otherwise, no coverage. The only way to cover yourself if you’re trying to avoid the risk entirely is to buy a “cancel for any reason” policy.
If you actually contract the flu while on vacation, most policies do cover your medical expense, but I see some red flags:
- Travel Insured says, straightforwardly: “Travel Insured plans provide Emergency Sickness Medical Expense and Emergency Medical Evacuation benefits for all necessary medical events, including those resulting from an insured traveler contracting swine flu.” CSA, Travelex, Travel Guard, and Travel Insured say much the same, as does TravelSafe for policies underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company.
- Some policies, however, do not provide medical coverage for illness contracted in a local “epidemic or pandemic.” Companies with this exclusion include Access America (for residents of most states) HTH Worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, swine flu has reached the stage of a pandemic, so, presumably, these policies would not cover you. However, Access America just announced it was waiving the exclusion for the current swine flu outbreak, so you’d be covered just as with any other illness.
Thus although most companies won’t let you cancel because you’re concerned, most cover you if you actually get sick. This parallels the hurricane coverage: You collect if a hurricane actually hits, but not if you’re just worried about it. With swine flu, however, you have to watch out for those companies that exclude coverage in the event of epidemic or pandemic.
Emergency Medical Evacuation
Coverage for emergency medical evacuation generally follows the rules for medical expenses, with regard to general coverage and the “epidemic or pandemic” exclusions. If you actually get sick after you arrive, they will cover evacuation if necessary, except for those companies that exclude epidemics.
My recommendation for insurance in cases of swine flu (or any other disease outbreak) is very much like my recommendation in the hurricane instance: If you want the freedom and security to cancel whenever you think it prudent, buy a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. Any-reason insurance is available with coverage up to 100% of your advance payments from CSA and TravelSafe, and up to 75-80% of your payments from Travel Guard, Travel Insured International, and Travelex. Most such coverages are extra-cost options, but they’re well worth the cost to avoid almost all of the potential risk and hassle. And even if you don’t get any-reason TCI, avoid policies that exclude medical protection in the event of epidemic or pandemic—that way, there’s no quibbling about whether any given outbreak is really an “epidemic.”
As with hurricane coverage, I recommend comparing policies and buying through one of the several large online insurance agencies that sell policies from all the big insurance companies:
SquareMouth (also operates as QuoteTravelInsurance)