President, RNH & Solutions | Chief Medical & UW Officer
Redbridge Insurance & Reinsurance Support
Dr Garcia’s presentation took in the ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’ of Covid-19. Dr Garcia began the panel session by sharing an overview of events of the past two years, from the moment on 12 December 2019, when a cluster of patients in Wuhan, China, began experiencing fevers and shortness of breath, through to global and local lockdowns, the evolution of treatment protocols, development of vaccines and variants. Considering how insurers approached their coverage to Covid-19, Dr Garcia pointed out that most carriers have amended their benefits and exclusions for pandemic events to ensure that their clients are now covered for medical care needed as a result of Covid-19 infection. Due to this, most international health insurance and life insurance products have registered a growth in sales since the pandemic – the protection that insurance offers is now top of mind for most consumers, whether it is for international medical cover or life insurance. While some countries were willing to shoulder the burden of cost for testing arriving and departing tourists to boost visitor numbers, others expected individuals or companies to bear the costs – many assistance companies stepped up their services in response to this.
travel insurance sales will grow to higher levels than were seen before the pandemic’ – partly due to requirements from many governments that visitors carry medical insurance
Moving onto treatments, as understanding of the virus has improved, so have treatment protocols, and then the distribution of vaccines has further changed how the virus is dealt with, with over 10 billion doses administered by the end of February 2022. Looking ahead, Dr Garcia predicted that treatment for Covid-19 will continue to improve, and that due to vaccinations largely protecting the public against hospitalisation and death, there is the potential need for more booster shots. “New variants will continue to appear,” he told ITIC attendees. “There are now more than 50 mutations of Omicron that have been verified and registered.”
The good news is that insurance coverage will continue to grow and adapt as we learn to live with the virus, and that ‘travel insurance sales will grow to higher levels than were seen before the pandemic’ – partly due to requirements from many governments that visitors carry medical insurance. To support this statement, Dr Garcia shared sales data from Redbridge showing a significant increase in the sales of individual and group travel insurance policies sold throughout 2021, with further growth predicted for 2022.
Chief Service Officer
What trends are assistance providers seeing in the market with regards to demands from customers, asked Frederico. And, are they real trends, or are they responses from the market as a result of the pandemic?
There are three main indicators in the assistance market noted by Frederico:
- An increase in coverage amount purchased
- An increase in the validity of coverage
- An increasing in use of digital channels and services such as telemedicine.
The average coverage amount has increased dramatically in the last 12 months, according to Assist Card data – the limits are going up, and clients are buying the more valuable policies. The average duration of the policies is also increasing – in 2018 it was 176 days, and in 2021 it had reached 230 days – this is vital for insurers. “The annual policies mean you can reach customers with regularity to remind them of the value of their cover,” pointed out Frederico, “which is valuable from a resale/customer loyalty point of view.” Long-stay expats are pushing the average length of policies up.
assistance companies need to provide the services customers are demanding, but occasionally insurers can be less willing – or slower – to issue the insurance coverage needed to prompt the assistance company to step in
Telehealth services are also becoming significantly more popular, with more services being added such as pre-travel testing, to make the service more useful to the customer. Customers are also expecting more from their telemedicine providers, said Frederico. They want digital prescriptions and personal consultations with doctors in their own languages, and they also expect regular medical monitoring, especially in the case of a positive Covid-19 diagnosis.
Technology is changing everything about how travel assistance is delivered, and travellers are driving these changes. The increase demand for, and acceptance of, digital services and enhanced communication that is delivered how they want it (What’s App, or text, not phone calls). The human element, though, will always be needed from an assistance perspective on occasion – in some complex cases, digital communication can actually slow down the process instead of speeding it up.
Meeting customers’ needs from an insurance point of view is a difficult one – yes, they are meeting customers’ needs, but there is a conflict here – assistance companies need to provide the services customers are demanding, but occasionally insurers can be less willing – or slower – to issue the insurance coverage needed to prompt the assistance company to step in.
Commercial Manager Universal Assistance Travel Protection
Universal Assistance SA
Beginning with a brief history of the effect Covid-19 has had on the travel insurance sector, Andres started by looking first at 2020, which saw the industry respond to managing the logistics of remote working, claims (low frequency but very costly), making difficult coverage decisions, and dealing with travel restrictions where in the case of closed borders, customers’ premiums were refunded. Moving on to 2021, Covid claims changed to low frequency but with moderate intensity, right up until the moment Omicron hit, at which point claims became very high frequency but low intensity. The move to digital has really taken off in 2021, said Andres – there is now a mobile app for everything travel related, with digital certification and self-assistance services becoming more powerful.
In 2022, insurers are looking for the most efficient working model for their employees – somewhere in between centralised versus distributed, and WFH versus on premises. The lessons learned about how technology can be used in a work environment over the past two years mean there is a more scaled approach to the services provided.
Returning to the wave of cases seen as a result of the Omicron variant, Andres said that for assistance companies, it meant simultaneous active cases – typically mild – resulted in workforce restrictions and saturated the frontline of healthcare provision. Medical providers had to take emergency measures, including cancellation of scheduled services. “Many providers found it difficult to manage their billing process particularly for international insurers as they prioritised their frontline services,” said Andres. The spike in assistance cases was far above expectations for assistance service providers: “We expected seasonal growth of around 100 per cent, instead, after Xmas, we observed a 250-per-cent increase in calls for assistance for Covid cases,” he told attendees. Emergency measures were introduced by Universal Assistance as well – these included urgent staff deployment and suspension of luggage tracking services.
New changes Andres predict will happen in the Latin American travel assistance sector:
- Cashless assistance is mandatory
- Deductibles will become more common in Latin America
- Credit validation tools are needed to correctly gauge an insurer’s payment capacity and solvency and More payment methods should be accepted by providers.
Andres also addressed key administrative and technical issues that assistance companies are seeing with their networked hospitals, and pointed out where hospitals could enhance the services they offer to insurance and assistance companies.
Victor’s presentation started by informing the audience that it was going to be about three truths, and one lie. “First of all,” he said, “the truths:
- Price inflations worsened during Covid-19, but still, discounts on hospital bills are achievable
- Medical case management continues to lose its ability to manage utilisation rates
- Most credit cards in Latin America do not provide comprehensive travel health insurance.”
The lie, he continued, is that national governments are going to solve the problem of ever-increasing healthcare costs. One of the biggest problems is prescription costs in an inpatient setting – which is where inflation runs riot and it’s incredibly difficult for cost containment measures to be effective. Special interest groups are spending millions of dollars in Washington every year to make sure that necessary changes to the US healthcare system do not occur. And not only do they not occur, the government sometimes cannot even secure sufficient votes to study the problem at hand of hospital price increases.
The solution to this issue, said Victor, is for insurers to design customer/patient-centric solutions that deliver access to the right care, at the right time, at the right place, and – vitally – at the right cost. This can be achieved whether the customer has a scheduled or non-scheduled appointment, is at home, or abroad. For example, for a scheduled appointment in the patient’s own county, insurers can offer cashless access to a networked facility, appointment services, second medical opinion and medical transport options. For medical assistance abroad, the travel insurer and assistance company can put in place the necessary procedures and protocols to offer customers self and assisted triage, telemedicine, access to a cashless network, and non-medical assistance services.