Experts fear that Australians infected with COVID may one day be locked out or punished when seeking life insurance, as scientists continue to uncover the long-term effects of the virus.
- The long-term health effects of COVID can affect your life insurance, even decades into the future
- Unlike health insurance, life insurance can place exclusions on policies if you have suffered health damage from COVID
- Experts warn that policies can be priced based on the severity of a COVID variant if they prove to have different effects
Life insurance companies can already use so-called carve-outs for those with pre-existing conditions, which means the customer would not be protected if the specific health problem one day prevents them from being able to work.
Used in COVID-19 patients, especially those living with long-term effects, it may make them unsuitable for life insurance claims arising from a COVID infection decades earlier.
Such exclusions, if they eventually occur, are unlikely to apply to those with existing life insurance unless they make changes or move to a new insurance company.
To Omicron and beyond
Jane Tiller of Monash University’s Public Health Genomics Program said that when an insurance company found out that a prospective client had COVID in their youth, it could count on their amount – even decades into the future.
“Because of the reports of long-term effects of COVID that we are seeing coming through, there may be risks in people getting life insurance,” she said.
Ms Tiller said there may also be risks if research eventually finds that some variants of COVID are more harmful than others.
“If it becomes possible to find out what varieties you had, then it is possible that they could try to distinguish between them,” she said.
“I’m worried that we might end up with a big gap between people who, without their own fault, without bad life choices, have been exposed to a serious pandemic virus.”
Professor Julie-Anne Tarr of the Queensland University of Technology’s Faculty of Business and Law said some insurance companies have already tried to block COVID from insurance.
“There was a company in Australia last year that started creating a cut for COVID and they would not insure around that,” she said.
COVIDs ‘long haul’
It is not possible to know which COVID variants lie in the future of Australia, or what impact they will have on our health.
But there is already research showing that COVID leaves a lasting impact on patients – even with Omicron, despite its reputation as a milder form of the virus.
Deakin University Associate Professor Martin Hensher said data from the UK showed that one in 10 COVID cases endured months with “long COVID” or post-acute COVID syndrome.
He said one in 25 of them had the same key symptoms, including extreme fatigue and so-called “brain fog”, after 12 months.
Sir. Hensher said for a small part that there is already evidence that COVID has done enormous damage to their bodies and not just their lungs.
“They see neurological damage, and some people see kidney damage,” he said.
For those who suffer from severe symptoms of COVID and end up in intensive care, he said they may be left with breathing and heart problems.
“Even people who have had relatively mild COVID infections may actually be at increased risk for cardiovascular and neurological conditions in particular,” Mr Hensher said.
The industry ‘sees no reason’ for exclusions
Nick Kirwan of the Financial Services Council, which represents the life insurance industry in Australia, said there was no evidence that insurance companies would lock out future customers because they had endured a COVID infection.
But he said that if there were long-term health effects from a previous COVID infection, insurers would take it into account – no different from those living with diabetes or a heart disease.
And for the young people, he said he did not think there was any reason why they would not be offered policies.
Kirwan said anyone concerned about how the COVID pandemic will change should take out life insurance now to protect them.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said.
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