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Ebola exposes coverage holes

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Ebola seems to have quieted down in the United States, at least for now, but it put employee benefit plans in an eerie new light.

The idea that people could contract a deadly infectious disease at work drew benefits sellers’ and workers’ attention to the reality that few people have enough of the right kinds of benefits, or personal wealth, to deal with a condition that could lead to loss of ability to work along with huge, immediate expenses.

Richard Kosinski, an insurance marketer at Specialty Insurance Advisors, has been distributing needle stick and workplace violence coverage underwritten by Lloyds of London. Lloyds added an Ebola benefit to the plan.

Employers of nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters or other workers who might come into contact with blood-borne conditions such as Ebola, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV can use that kind of program to beef up the workers’ benefits. The underlying Lloyds policy, for example, pays a $200,000 lump-sum benefit, and the Ebola feature pays $20,000 in benefits per month, and it’s sold on a flat-rate, guaranteed-issue basis.

“It’s easy to present and easy to sell,” Kosinski said.

For a look at three ideas why employers might be interested in beefing up infectious disease benefits, at least for some workers, read on. 

Workers' comp

1. Workers’ compensation insurance is not necessarily designed to protect the needs of relatively high-income doctors, nurses, police officers and firefighters

Another problem is that getting workers’ compensation benefits might take time. 

Adding a specialty benefit could help affected employees who urgently need help get benefits quickly.

See also: Disability benefits may cut workers’ comp costs


2. Ordinary disability insurance or critical illness insurance may not help meet infected professionals’ need for quick access to large sums of cash

One challenge is that people with serious infectious illnesses may not yet be critically ill, and they may not really be disabled. A supplementary product might help keep workers from falling between the definitional cracks.

See also: ‘Non-PPACA’ benefits regs head for impact review


3. The odds of getting an infectious illness might be higher than many realize

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hears about 800,000 needle sticks per year, and about 16,000 needle sticks involving HIV contamination. 

Right now, the risk of contracting Ebola seems to be close to zero, but, of course, that was also true in West Africa just 18 months ago.

Image: AP Photo/Bernd Kammerer


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