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Coronavirus May Change Insurance Industry Forever


Waiters at a restaurant adjust social distancing screens outside for outdoor seating that follows current health guidelines to slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) at a restaurant in New York City, June 25, 2020. (Reuters)
Coronavirus May Change Insurance Industry Forever
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Insurance companies are creating products for a world where health emergencies could become the new normal after many businesses struggled during the COVID-19 crisis.

New insurance policies designed to guard against events like the coronavirus health crisis might cost a lot. But they offer businesses -- from restaurants to film production companies -- ways of protecting against work stoppages and losses if another virus strikes.

The providers include big insurance companies and individual brokers adding new products to existing coverage. There also are niche players -- businesses that see a chance to fill the space left by major insurers that liken pandemics to wars or nuclear explosions.

For example, a Massachusetts-based company called Machine Cover aims to offer policies next year that would give help during lockdowns. Using computer software and other data sources, the company measures traffic levels around businesses such as restaurants, stores and car dealers.

If traffic drops below a set level, Machine Cover provides the businesses it insures with financial support, whatever the reason. That way the effect of a decrease in business activity is reduced.

The Reuters news agency spoke with Inder-Jeet Gujral, the company’s creator. “This is the type of coverage which...businesses thought they had paid for when they bought their current business interruption policies before the coronavirus,” he said.

Machine Cover receives support from insurance provider Hiscox and individual investors, mostly from the insurance and private investment world.

This month, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Florida, Carlos Gimenez, ordered local restaurants to close a short time after they had reopened. As a result, the restaurants are now struggling, notes Andrew Giambarba of the Insurance Office of America in Doral, Florida. He wrote insurance policies for restaurants that did not get federal aid when the coronavirus forced their businesses to close.

“Every niche that is dealing with insurance that is affected by business interruption needs every new product they can have,” he noted.

Pandemic exemptions have helped some insurers remain financially secure, while the insurance industry has largely resisted pressure to provide more coverage for virus-related losses. In fact, some insurers that paid out for event cancellations and other losses have removed pandemics from their coverage.

Last week, British risk management group Airmic said that the pandemic was partly responsible for a lack of basic insurance at a reasonable cost. Airmic added that most of its members were looking at other ways to reduce risk.

Recently, Lloyd’s of London insurer Beazley PLC started selling a policy to insure organizers of online music, cultural and business events against technical problems.

These events depend completely on the technology working and a failure can be “financially crippling,” said Mark Symons, who works for Beazley.

Since businesses are only now learning how disease outbreaks can affect them, some new insurance products are specially made.

Elite Risk Insurance in California has been offering “COVID outbreak relapse coverage” since May. The policies are meant for businesses forced to close a second time, said Jeff Kleid, Elite Risk’s creator. The policies are designed around individual businesses and only pay out when one or more conditions are met.

For film and television production companies that could be when an actor gets the virus, forcing them to stop filming. Such policies are costly: a $1 million policy could cost between about $80,000 to $100,000, depending on the terms.

“The insurance ... is costly because it covers a risk that does not have a historical basis for calculating the price,” Kleid says.

Some insurers are also working on changes to employee pay and health insurance plans. With millions of workers not expected to return to offices anytime soon, some companies in Asia are preparing insurance policies to protect them from hardship.

I’m Pete Musto.

Noor Zainab Hussain reported on this story for Reuters. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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Words in This Story

insurancen. an agreement in which a person makes regular payments to a company and the company promises to pay money if the person is injured or dies, or to pay money equal to the value of something (such as a house or car) if it is damaged, lost, or stolen

broker(s) – n. a person who helps other people to reach agreements, to make deals, or to buy and sell property, such as stocks or houses

nichen. the situation in which a business's products or services can succeed by being sold to a particular kind or group of people — usually singular

pandemic(s) – n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

lockdown(s) – n. a state of isolation or restricted movement established as a security measure

source(s) – n. someone or something that provides what is wanted or needed

interruption n. the act of causing something to stop happening for a time

exemption(s) – n. the process of freeing or state of being free from a requirement or liability forced on others

managementn. the act or skill of controlling and making decisions about a business, department or sports team

calculating v. getting a general idea about the value, size, or cost of something

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