Effect Measure

Swine flu and travel insurance

I’ve been getting questions about whether it is safe to send sons and daughters to travel to places where there might be a lot of swine flu about. Many are from people in North America whose children are due to travel to Asia or Africa. The irony is that it is North America which is where most of the cases are, but that will undoubtedly change. And the real fear, I think, is what happens if someone gets really sick far from home, possible somewhere where the medical care is sub-optimal. That’s not just a swine flu concern. Those of us who travel often take out medical travel insurance that covers costs of cancelation, medical care while traveling or even air ambulance back home. So is this a good idea considering the fact that there is now an official pandemic with swine flu? The answer seems to be . . . Read the Fine Print:

Americans who bought travel insurance hoping to be covered for emergency treatment if they develop swine flu while on vacation could find their cover is limited now that a global flu pandemic is officially underway, Squaremouth.com, the country?s fastest growing comparison website for travel insurance, reported today.

Exclusionary clauses in some travel insurance policies allow insurers to get out of paying medical claims related to swine flu in the case of an officially declared global pandemic or epidemic. But not all policies void medical coverage during disease outbreaks – in fact, most do not ? so it?s critical for buyers to find out directly from their insurer, or from a website like Squaremouth.com, what protection they still have, said Squaremouth?s chief executive Chris Harvey.

?Companies may choose to overlook their own pandemic or epidemic exclusion policy on a case by case basis,? Harvey said. ?The lesson here is always to check the policy?s fine print.? (Insurance News)

I did check some of the policies and found it is quite common to have specific exclusions for canceling for fear of getting sick with swine flu: it’s considered a known event. It’s possible with many policies — for an extra fee, naturally — to purchase a “cancel for any reason” option, which you might want to do if you think you’ll go under present conditions but not if things get a lot worse.

Of course getting sick is not the only possibility. As some high profile travelers have discovered any country can decide to do something within its borders such as quarantining people on flights or cruises or in hotels where there are swine flu cases. I expect this will begin to fade as it becomes clear this cat is out of the bag and cannot be contained, but right now it’s happening in places like China and its Hong Kong SAR. If borders are closed or travel connections to certain locales severed (on either end), this would also affect an otherwise healthy traveler.

You can find some insurance carrier statements here. If I could wave a magic want and either get rid of swine flu or insurance companies, it would be a very hard choice.


  1. #1 RobT
    June 17, 2009

    I had to chuckle at your last paragraph, tough choice indeed.

    This is a timely post for us as my wife and 9 year old daughter are booked to go to France from Sydney early July. I’m more concerned about them sharing a plane with infected folks from Melbourne due to the community spead in Victoria, than catching it in France, at this point anyway.
    We’re watching carefully and considering trip cancellation, insurance, all that sort of thing.

  2. #2 JulieRN
    June 17, 2009

    Uh, oh! Google News is reporting a new strain of H1N1 found in Brazil. The victim recovered. If this new strain is verified, does that mean this virus is changing rapidly?
    It’s been just 2 months since it began spreading.

  3. #3 revere
    June 17, 2009

    Julie: I’ve been checking in to this a bit. So far there is no confirmation this is a new strain and it is possible the news reports have this one wrong. We’ll have to see. Flu viruses change but this one is not changing rapidly as far as we can tell.

  4. #4 melbren
    June 17, 2009

    Revere- Did you read about the healthy 20 year old from San Diego who began to feel ill on Sunday and then died with swine flu in an emergency room on Monday? (There was apparently not even time to admit her.) Geographically, this is very close to Imperial County–where the first swine flu cases were identified back in March/April.

    Do influenza viruses evolve/mutate in such a way that we would expect to first notice more virulent forms in regions where swine flu has had more time to infect a cluster of people?

    And, as a broader question, are public health professionals able to–or even interested in–examining cultures from those who are presently dying of swine flu to see if any significant mutation has occurred? (Or is that a process that would take too long and cost too much to consider doing routinely?)

  5. #5 Brittney
    June 17, 2009

    I have been keeping a tally of the death count based on state health department reports and the current count is 86 people in the US. More than half of these people according to their reports were young and health. Several of them died within days of contacting this flu. Keeping in mind that we have only been testing for this flu since late April-that means that 86 people have died in a little over a month. More alarming to me is the fact that most of these people are young and health. Furthermore, some of the underlying conditions that have been listed are laughable to me. Psoriasis and gout are not underlying conditions that should qualify anyone as high risk for the flu.

  6. #6 melbren
    June 17, 2009

    Better than travel insurance! This is a direct quote from the Real Resorts website regarding their “flu-free guarantee”:

    “CANCUN – RIVIERA MAYA – Real Resorts, says ‘Welcome Back to Cancun & Riviera Maya’ with a “flu-free guarantee” plan and once-in-a-lifetime luxury vacation values. Real Resorts is offering any guest, who in the extremely unlikely event contracts the (H1N1) flu virus within 14 days of visiting any of its resorts in Cancun or Playa del Carmen a three year package of complimentary guaranteed vacations.”

    So pass the Tamiflu….and the nachos!

  7. #7 River
    June 17, 2009

    LOL melbren!

  8. #8 BostonERDoc
    June 17, 2009

    I used to work on the side for a conceirge telemedical service that took care of VIPs and the rich when they traveled abroad. In that capacity, I called every US, Canadian and British embassy in countries throughout the world and had a chat with the medical officer–frequently a nurse–typically a US trained MD at the big embassies regarding the best health care around. The common theme was to seek out a “board panel physician”. These are physicians whose credentials have been investigated by the embassy and they are certified to carry out various medical duties for the embassy such as health screening exams for adopted children. Most of these panel physicians have had some degree of western medicine training in US, Canada, UK or Europe. I have talked to several of them and have referred patients to them (money talks in the World really well I would add). So my advice to anyone who is traveling and gets into some health trouble is to contact the US embassy and ask for the name and number of a board panel physician. It is the closest thing to seeing a physician at home. Oh and word of caution, the embassy physician will not see you–they are only concerned with the embassy personell and marines guarding them.

  9. #9 Lisa the GP
    June 17, 2009

    Revere, no contest. Get rid of insurance companies.

    If it’s not swine flu it’ll just be another flu. Part of nature.

  10. #10 Nitika
    June 18, 2009

    we are planning a family vacation in HongKong in the 1st week of jul. Should we continue with it or postpone it because of flu? and if postpone it, then for how long?
    please suggest.

  11. #11 revere
    June 18, 2009

    Nitika and others: We have no way to advise you on this. You’ll have to make your own judgment. Ask your doctor what he/she thinks. At this point I personally wouldn’t change plans but the situation is fluid.

  12. #12 tam
    June 18, 2009

    this is not good for young ones…

    SD County reports first swine flu death
    The Associated Press
    Posted: 06/16/2009 07:46:13 PM PDT
    Updated: 06/16/2009 07:46:13 PM PDT

    SAN DIEGO—San Diego County health officials say a 20-year-old woman has died from the swine flu.
    The announcement on Tuesday marks California’s seventh death from the disease.

    The county Health and Human Services Agency says the woman died Monday in a hospital emergency room shortly after developing flu symptoms. Public health officials say it is the first confirmed swine flu death in the San Diego area.

    County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten says the woman was apparently healthy just before going to the emergency room to be evaluated. Her name has not been released.

    Wooten says the circumstances of the woman’s death are not unusual for a swine flu case, noting that there is no immunity to the disease.

  13. #13 Mark
    June 19, 2009

    Found this article,is there a link between french fries and swine flu or is this a russian joke?


  14. #14 revere
    June 19, 2009

    Mark: Looks like a spoof to me. Clever use of some known flu science.

  15. #15 Chriss
    July 7, 2009

    Will insurance companies ask the question of whether or not you have had swine flu in the future and then add a medical premium if you have?

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