Coronavirus: The message for existing life insurance policyholders

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Leading insurers say that if cover was in place before COVID-19, terms remain the same. Photo credit: Getty.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Zealand sits at 868, with just one death and 103 recoveries, life and health insurers say that there's no change to existing policies, but new life policies may be assessed differently.

At a time when many Kiwis are strapped for cash, Newshub asked Suncorp, Partners Life and Southern Cross what's changed since the COVID-19 outbreak.

A spokesperson for Suncorp, which sells life insurance policies under Asteron Life, told Newshub that existing policy terms and conditions still apply.

"If an Asteron Life policyholder were to pass away due to coronavirus, their family or estate would be entitled to make a claim under their policy in the normal way," the spokesperson said.

Suncorp also said that since COVID-19, it had included new application questions to help assess the risk of new applicants. People potentially exposed to the virus would be considered for cover if, after 14 days, they had no signs or symptoms.

"In February, we introduced new questions into the application process, asking all new applicants if they have had contact with the coronavirus; or travelled to, from or transited, mainland China since 1 December 2019.  

"Following updates from the New Zealand Government and Ministry of Health recommending New Zealanders don't travel overseas, we're now asking all new applicants if they've recently travelled internationally," the Suncorp spokesperson added.

Naomi Ballantyne, the founder of Partners Life, said that some existing mortgage repayment cover policies include optional 'redundancy cover'. People who have this optional benefit on their policy could get short-term financial relief if they're involuntarily made redundant. 

However, if cover was taken out shortly before COVID-19, they may not yet be eligible for a benefit.

"These covers would respond to COVID-19-related lay-offs: most will offset redundancy payments received and claims will be paid until a new job is [started] or the maximum payment term is reached (commonly six months)," Ballantyne said.

"Some providers have a stand-down period following the commencement of the policy before redundancy cover kicks in."

Ballantyne said that a number of companies, including Partners Life, stopped accepting new applications for redundancy cover once COVID-19 business restrictions were applied.

"The risk of redundancy and bankruptcy for new customers is unquantifiable at present, and therefore uninsurable [but] this doesn't affect existing policies," Ballantyne added.

People taking out new cover are asked a series of personal health questions, including details of any recent tests and investigations.

"In respect to COVID-19 related issues, anything other than mild, flu-like symptoms would also need to be disclosed in the application form," Ballantyne said.

As insurers may approach the risks of COVID-19 differently, Ballantyne recommends that new customers seek advice from an adviser.

"They should have knowledge of which provider will deliver the best result for their circumstances."

Nick Astwick, CEO of Southern Cross Health Society, said that as the public health system delivers frontline care when public health issues such as Coronavirus arise, health claims haven't increased.  

"We've seen no noticeable change in the types of claims we've been receiving since COVID-19 emerged, other than a shift to virtual consultations," Astwick said.

He also said that existing Southern Cross members can be confident their existing insurance cover hasn't changed. 

"The outbreak of COVID-19 hasn't resulted in any changes to our policies, cover or benefits."

Southern Cross members whose policies cover GP visits and specialist consultations can still claim if they're done virtually, or by phone.  

"Members can submit claims as usual online using My Southern Cross or via our mobile app," Astwick said.

Richard Klipin, chief executive at Financial Services Council said that life, income, health and trauma insurance products don't specifically exclude pandemics like COVID-19.  He said that people who lose their income or are facing financial hardship may be able to put premiums on hold and encourages them to talk to their life insurer or financial adviser before cancelling their policy.

"It's better to put your current cover on hold than to lose your current benefits," Kilpin said.

More information on how to get financial advice is available at FMA and Sorted.