A year ago, heads were spinning around the world with the news of a mysterious new epidemic infiltrating new borders at lightning speed: Zika virus. Fast forward to today in 2017, and we're no longer seeing frightening headlines in the news every day; Zika panic has mostly subsided. This is thanks in no small part to the efforts of high-risk areas like Singapore to contain and minimise risk of infection.
But while the World Health Organisation announced the end of the Zika epidemic in November 2016, the threat posed by Zika-carrying mosquitoes has not disappeared. In any case, the Zika crisis of 2016 reminded us all how vulnerable we still are and that we can't take our personal health and safety for granted, even when on vacation. As you make your travel plans, you may be considering purchasing a travel insurance policy in case you're traveling to a destination that still may be impacted by this virus or one like it, just to be safe. But does travel insurance even cover Zika virus? Our team at ValueChampion decided to find out.
Does Travel Insurance in Singapore Cover Zika? Don't Count On It
We dove into the policy wordings of the top providers of travel insurance in Singapore, including NTUC Income, Aviva, MSIG, Etiqa, Allianz Global Assistance, FWD, Budget Direct, HL Assurance and DirectAsia to see how insurance companies tend to address the threat of Zika. While each policy's wording was different, most of these insurers did tend to hit the same notes. Generally speaking, travel insurance policies may cover you for costs incurred if you contract Zika or some other infectious disease up to the limits specified - but only if you had no good reason to believe travelling to that destination might pose such a risk. Furthermore, if the country you're travelling to is declared by the WHO or some other official authority to be experiencing an outbreak, epidemic or pandemic while you are there, but not before, your insurer is more likely to honor your claim.
Otherwise, the odds aren't particularly good that your travel insurance plan will cover you for Zika virus for most insurers. Although Zika is not currently described as an epidemic or pandemic by any official or government body (which would already exempt travel insurance plans from covering it according to their policies), some insurers reserve the right to refuse a claim that results from any contagious disease whatsoever. Often, insurers include a clause in their "General Exceptions" section that precludes them from having to cover health hazards related to "Known Events." This is a catchall term that essentially refers to any major event that might pose a hazard to you as a traveller that they think you ought to have known about before exposing yourself to those risks, through extensive mass media coverage, explicit warnings from official bodies, etc. Given the circumstances, it seems likely that insurers would consider the Zika virus to qualify as a "Known Event" that precludes Zika from being covered under their policies.
So What Now?
Our position is that it's probably safest not to assume that your travel insurance plan will necessarily cover Zika should you or your family members contract it while overseas, unless there is a sudden and unexpected outbreak after you arrive in your destination country. So what are your other options?
Consider Buying a Personal Accident Insurance Policy
While insurance companies in Singapore may not be likely to cover you against the risk of contracting the Zika virus in their travel insurance policies, more and more insurers have begun to release Personal Accident policies specifically designed to cover infectious diseases like Zika. Etiqa, Great Eastern, FWD and NTUC Income are four examples of insurers that offer this kind of policy, which will cover you not only against Zika but also against other diseases like malaria, yellow fever or dengue. These policies don't tend to be too expensive, either - Etiqa's cheapest "Silver" plan, for example, costs S$150 for a year's worth of protection. If this is a very serious concern for you and you're looking for guaranteed coverage, purchasing such a policy alongside your travel insurance plan may be worth the cost.
Check Out Travel Insurance Plans That You Can Cancel Whenever
While you may not be able to guarantee that your travel insurance plan will reimburse you for losses and damages that result from sudden changes to your travel plans due to Zika or any other dangerous disease, some insurers will at least refund the cost of your travel insurance plan if your travel plans suddenly change and you need to cancel a trip. If you want to ensure a little more flexibility in the runup to your next trip overseas, consider an insurer that will let you cancel your travel insurance plan and reimburse you for the cost up until your trip is supposed to begin. Some examples of insurers that will refund last-minute plan cancellations are Budget Direct, which will give you a full refund with no cancellation fees up until the day before your policy's start date for single-trip plans, and FWD and HL Assurance, which will refund a certain percentage of the premium you paid for an annual plan that will depend on how many months you have remaining on your policy.
Don't Forget to Try Contacting Your Airline
Although you may have a hard time convincing your insurer to cover changes to your travel plans as a result of health hazards that might spring up such as Zika, you might be surprised by how accommodating your airline could be. During the height of the Zika panic of 2016, many major airlines did honor requests for ticket refunds by anxious customers. While there is no guarantee that your airline will refund you if another global health crisis like Zika erupts, it's definitely worth a try.