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Insurance against H1N1

November 22, 2009|By Jane Engle

Mounting infections, government alerts and quarantines of foreign visitors: The drumbeat of bad news about H1N1, or swine flu, never lets up. Which leaves travelers among those who worry about protecting themselves.

Besides taking the usual health precautions, travelers should consider buying trip insurance. But don't expect it to cover every situation.

In fact, after the World Health Organization on June 11 declared H1N1 a global pandemic, several big trip insurance providers stopped covering it, said Peter Evans, executive vice president of InsureMyTrip.com, an insurance comparison site and agency based in Warwick, R.I.

Now it appears those providers have reconsidered. Evans said earlier this month he was not aware of any big trip insurers that still enforced a so-called pandemic exclusion for H1N1.

Here's a Q&A on general industry practices on H1N1 for bundled policies, which typically cover the costs of trip cancellation and interruption, medical care and some other situations.

Question: If I cancel a trip because I contract H1N1 before I leave or my traveling companion or a family member contracts it, can I get back my nonrefundable deposits?

Answer: Generally yes, if you provide documentation of the illness.

Q: What if I cancel my trip because I am afraid I will get swine flu or be quarantined at my destination?

A: Generally, no. Insurance companies say their standard policies are designed to insure against unforeseen events, not a state of mind.

It is possible, however, to buy coverage even for a state of mind if you pay extra for a cancel-for-any-reason rider, usually sold as an optional addition to a standard policy.

Here's how it works: A standard policy covers you only for losses incurred if you cancel a trip for one of the covered reasons, such as illness or job loss. A cancel-for-any-reason rider expands the list to just about any cause. The trade-offs: The rider can boost the premium, typically about 4% to 8% of the trip's cost, by half or so, and it may pay less than 100% of losses you incur for reasons outside the standard policy.

Q: Does it matter if a U.S. government agency issues a warning that urges Americans to avoid visiting my destination or advises of risks of travel there? For instance, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert Sept. 25 saying it had received thousands of reports of American visitors being quarantined by China for suspected H1N1 infection. As of Nov. 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said pregnant women, the elderly and some others at high risk for H1N1 complications might "want to consider postponing travel."

A: Generally, no. A government warning is typically not a covered reason for trip cancellation, Evans said.

Q: If my tour operator cancels my trip because of fears related to H1N1, can I get back my nonrefundable deposits?

A: Maybe. Representatives for several insurance companies I contacted said they would expect the tour operator to issue refunds in this case. If that doesn't happen, some insurers may decline to cover your losses because fear is not a covered reason, Evans said.

If the tour operator offers to reschedule your trip and you don't want to do that, insurers may refuse to pay because their policies exclude "failure to provide bargained-for travel arrangements," said Bob Chambers, director of operations for CSA Travel Protection.

If you bought a cancel-for-any-reason rider, though, you should be covered for this situation.

Q: If I contract H1N1 on my trip or am quarantined on suspicion of H1N1 infection, will I be compensated for any losses I incur?

A: If you get sick, you're probably covered. But if you're not sick, maybe not. Under the policy of Access America, an insurer based in Richmond, Va., for instance, "individuals who are quarantined even though they are not infected with the H1N1 virus are not eligible for coverage," said spokesman Mark Cipolletti.

My advice? If you're investing a lot of money in your trip, buy travel insurance and pay extra for a cancel-for-any-reason rider. The peace of mind can be worth the added expense.

travel@latimes.com

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