The decade 2020 and this particular year 2020 has begun with a bang. The Corona Virus or the COVID-19 has shaken the entire world- whether it a developing or developed country or a rich and wealthy or a poor nation. The picture emerging is alarming with a large number of countries including India are under Lock Down. There are more than 24 lac cases detected throughout the world with the death number exceeding 160000 as on April 15 2020. In India the figures are 16189 and 536 respectively.
Under this situation, all industries are under great stress, mostly closed and are in financial doldrums. Insurance Industry too is not an exception. All insurers have lost more than 30% of their new business during the crucial month of March 2020, as huge new business is procured only during the last month- that also last week- of March every year, in view of the nation wide Lock Down announced by the Government of India from March 24 for three weeks initially but then extended up to May 3. Nothing could be done because human lives are more important than the human lives getting insured, because insurance can be taken only when you are alive!
World Health Organization- WHO- has declared the Corona Virus as a Pandemic. ( Epidemic is restricted to one community or one country, whereas the Pandemic is spread throughout the world.)
Now the question arises- What is the role of the Insurance Industry in guiding the existing policyholders and new clients with regard to Corona Virus?
As an industry closely linked with the health of the population in general and our policyholders in particular, are we rising to the occasion now guiding the general public about this Virus?
What is the part to be played by the Insurance Regulator- Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India, in short the IRDAI?
What are the proactive steps to be taken by the 2 million insurance agents in the country?
In what way, the Government of India can intervene in this matter to help the common public?
Let us look at these situations in this article.
The Role of the Government of India
This subject has been taken up first because Insurance is only one of the many numerous steps to taken up by the Government to come to the rescue of the suffering public, especially the poor and the downtrodden.
- The Government has announced to provide an Health Insurance of Rs 50 lacs per head for all Doctors, Nurses, Health care workers, safai karmacharis, ward boys, ASHA Workers, para medics, technicians and Specialists and all the traffic Police personnel for a period of 3 months till June 2020, to be continued if required. Health care workers alone are 22 lac people in India.
- All the above categories of persons are also covered by a Personal Accident Cover of Rs 50 lacs for this period.
- There are 50 lac trucks in India but only 4 lac trucks ply daily. These 4 lac drivers and cleaners will be extended this Health Insurance of Rs 50 lacs per head for 3 months as a short term insurance cover by the Government and the Life Insurance Corporation of India- LIC- and the modalities are being worked out. 19 deaths that took place among these truck drivers and cleaners have created a panic among this section of population and hence this reassuring gesture from the Government.
- The Income Tax Department has announced that insurance premiums paid up to June 30, 2020 would be taken as paid on or before March 31 2020 and the eligible IT Rebates would be given for the FY 2019-2020 in the Income Tax Assessments of people.
- All Health Insurers have to cover the Corona Virus Pandemic claims including hospital treatments under the Ayushman Bharat, although this was not envisaged at the inception of this Scheme.
Financial Help from the Industry
Although financial donations are pouring in from each nook and corner of the country including from the Celebrities towards the PM CARES FUND mainly for the Corona victims, I am restricting the list to the Industries donation in general and the Insurance Industry in particular-
- TATA Sons- Rs 1500 crores.
- ITC- Rs 150 crores.
- HUL- Rs 100 crores.
- Vedanta- Rs 100 crores.
- Hero Cycles- Rs 100 crores.
- Bajaj Finance- Rs 100 crores.
- Sun Pharma- Rs 25 crores.
- OLA Group- Rs 20 crores.
- Paytm Rs 5 crores.
- Individuals Mr Mukesh Ambani- Rs 500 crores.
- Mr Gautam Adani- Rs 500 crores.
The number is long but the list has been limited, although our grateful thanks are due to each and every individual and entity.
LIC has given USD 13.8 million for Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in emergency situation Fund set up for this Pandemic. This includes INR 50 Million from the LIC Golden Jubilee Fund.
GIC Re has given USD 3.02 Million to the Relief Fund.
Initiatives from the IRDAI
The Regulator gave a mandate to the Insurance Companies to extend the grace period by one more month for the renewal premiums pertaining to the Life Insurance and General Insurance policies falling due between March 25 to April 14 2020, thereby giving the policyholders some breathing time. This also includes Health Insurance Premiums and Third Party Automobile Insurance premiums.
IRDAI has mandated that all the Corona Virus claims to be dealt with promptness and alertness in view of the tragedy by all insurance companies.
IRDAI has advised the Insurers to operate their offices- Insurance Sector comes under the Essential Services like the Banks- with absolutely necessary staff to maintain services like claim settlement, authorization for hospitalization, renewal of policies etc.
The Regulator has allowed the Travel Insurance policies to extend their Start/ End dates with policies taken between March 22 to April 30 2020 without paying any extra charges. This is to ensure that the impact of the Pandemic on travel plans and finances is cushioned. For future, the current travel insurance conditions should be relaxed in view of the unexpected events like the Pandemic.
Under Health Insurance, Senior Citizens are also to be covered against the Corona Virus. The Virus testing is free now, but it may have to borne by the public soon. So its cost is to be borne by the Insurer. Scanned copies of the documents should be accepted and 3 months’ time should be given for submission of Papers- presently it is 15 days. The Virus treatment will also be expensive in the Private Hospitals in view of antiviral, ventilators, Personal Protective Equipments-PPE- and separate Wards for treating the Virus patients. Hence the Health Insurer should cover these expenses too, as per the Policy conditions. However the General Insurance Council is requesting the Regulator to standardize the rates for the Virus treatment as different Private Hospitals are levying different rates.
The IRDAI also mentioned that all the Unit Linked Policies maturing from March to May 2020 may be given the option of receiving the maturity amount in five yearly installments, irrespective of whether this provision existed in the original terms and conditions of the policy or not. This helps to take only one fifth of the amount at the present NAV-Net Asset Value- of the Units, because of the dipping of the Markets by 35% in the last three weeks, the NAV may be less. The policyholders may get a higher NAV next year or thereafter thus benefiting them. This applies to the maturity of Traditional Policies too in the Life Insurance sector.
There is also the provision that the policyholder can any time during these 5 years withdraw this installment payment facility and get back all the balance amounts of Maturity in a lump sum without any penalty.
IRDAI wants insurers to come up with need-based policies to cover the Corona Virus for the Public at large.
The Regulator has announced a 3 month moratorium on all Term Loans sanctioned by the Insurers.
According to the Life Insurance Council, the insurance companies can not cite ‘ Force Majeure’ in the COVID 19 Claim cases- this is a term used in Contracts which allows parties avoid their obligations, if there is a totally unexpected and unforeseen event that makes it impossible to fulfill their Contract. Life Insurance Council has said that this will not apply in the COVID 19 Cases and death claims, although COVID 19 is an unexpected event.
The steps taken by the Insurers
Some Insurers like the HDFC Ergo, Religare, Max Bupa, TATA AIA facilitate Tele Medical Check-ups for their new policy buyers.
Insurers like the LIC, SBI Life, ICICI Pru are encouraging telephone and digital modes of communication to reach out to their customers.
Max Life Insurance has a COVID-19 Section in its website in order to answer the queries of their clients regarding the coverage of the Virus infection.
All insurers have ensured for quicker claim settlement processes at all the virus-affected areas.
ICICI Pru Life Insurance company is waiving additional charges such as Reinstatement and Late Payment Fees for reviving those policies that have lapsed during the last 6 to 12 months.
Star Health and Allied Insurance company has launched Star Novel CV Insurance Policy, covering all those who test positive and require hospitalization. This policy provides a lump sum payment of Rs 21000 and Rs 42000 to the insured person between the ages 18 to 65 years for the yearly premium of Rs 459 and Rs 918 respectively, provided that the insured person does not have International Travel History-related exclusion.
Clinikk Health Care Start-up has a Plan for the Corona Virus with an insurance cover of Rs 1 lac.
ICICI Lombard General Insurance company has a Group Insurance Cover for this Virus, with a sum assured of Rs 25000 for people aged between 18 to 75 for a period of one year, with the protection being only within our country. The monthly premium is Rs 149.
Life Insurance Corporation of India has already settled 16 death claims due to the Corona Virus.
The General Insurance Industry as a whole has settled 130 Corona Virus death claims for Rs 3 crores.
TATA AIA Life Insurance company has permitted an additional amount of Rs 5 lacs to all death claims due to the Virus, without any extra premium being charged for it. All their policyholders will get this benefit- the additional free amount is either the basic sum assured of the policy or Rs 5 lacs whichever is lower. This benefit is up to June 30 2020.
This benefit is extended to all the agents of the insurance company but with a cap of Rs 25000.
India First Life Insurance company has covered the Corona Virus in all their existing policies.
However the General Insurance Industry has refused the Business Interruption losses due to COVID-19, as the Loss of Profit Clause does not get triggered unless there is a physical damage. The Business Interruption policy is given along with the Fire or Property Insurance policy by the General Insurance companies. However some of the clients are planning to approach the Regulator to get the Business Interruption losses covered for the COVID 19 Pandemic too.
All the Insurance Agents are active in contacting their existing clients as well as new prospects through phone, email and all other social media and helping them in the renewal of their policies and attending to their service needs.
A Salute to our Heroes
319 Health Care Professionals including Doctors and 101 nurses have lost their precious lives so far while treating the Corona Virus patients throughout the world, including 7 from India.
These Heroes deserve a grand Salute from all of us, in addition to the Police Personnel and Conservancy workers.
A Cheerful news- Oxford Researchers are working on a Vaccine called Chadox I for the Corona Virus. Even before Test results come out, 7 manufacturing Units in the world have started preparing the Vaccine on a commercial scale- these include 2 in the USA, one each in China and India. Chadox I is expected to hit the market by September 2020.
Let’s pray for the success of this new Vaccine.
A word for our fellow citizens- Don’t feel depressed being at home. We are not stuck at home. We are safe at home. Let us be thankful to the Government of India for their timely Lock Down action and other measures and let us support our Government by adhering to their advices.
The world is closed for Renovation. Grand Re-opening soon!
A Small Story
One Rishi was like a Guardian Angel for a village and was taking care of the needs of the people. No new person could enter the village without being questioned and allowed by the Rishi.
One night, the Rishi saw a ghost like creature trying to enter the village. Rishi stopped him and questioned the intention of the ghost. The ghost replied “ I am like a MahaMari- plague. I want to take 1000 lives from your village to quench my thirst. Nobody can stop me, including you, because it is by God’s orders”. Rishi too realized the predicament and knew that he would not be able to prevent this disaster. Unhappily, Rishi permitted the ghost to get in to the village.
Within a month, 30000 people died in the village due to an unidentified fever. That night, the ghost was leaving the village having completed his job. Rishi was waiting furiously at the exit point and he caught hold of the ghost and shouted “ What’s this? You said that you would eat only 1000 people, but now you have killed 30000 persons. How far this is fair and just?”
The ghost replied “ Rishi Maharaj, I never broke my word. I ate only 1000 people in this one month. But all others had a slow death simply out of FEAR. What can I do?”
The lesson is- let us not create false alarm and panic among people by hearing and spreading all sorts of stories and rumors. Let us go only by Government Notifications and announcements and fight this demon- Corona Virus.
Victory is Ours.