Tag Archives: Pandemics

All about pandemic catastrophe bonds

In previous articles, we discussed how communicable diseases and pandemics are (or are not) addressed in personal and commercial insurance policies. Today, we’ll talk about pandemic catastrophe bonds.

The Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2016 ultimately resulted in more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths, most of them concentrated in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The outbreak inspired the World Bank to develop a so-called “pandemic catastrophe bond,” an instrument designed to quickly provide financial support in the event of an outbreak. The World Bank reportedly estimated that if the West African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak had had quicker access to financial support, then only 10 percent of the total deaths would have occurred.

But wait, what are “catastrophe bonds” and what’s so special about a pandemic bond?

“Traditional” catastrophe bonds

Like good old-fashioned insurance, catastrophe bonds are a way to transfer risk, often for natural disasters. They usually work like this: investors buy a high-yield bond issued by an insurance company. If a specific qualifying event occurs, such as if claims from a natural disaster exceed a certain amount (an “indemnity trigger”), the bond holders forfeit the principal of the bond, which goes to the insurer to help defray costs.

Catastrophe bonds are high-risk investments – hence the high yields they pay to investors to compensate for that risk. After all, there’s a pretty good chance a sizeable hurricane will hit in any given year.

Pandemic catastrophe bonds

Pandemic catastrophe bonds are similar. An entity (like the World Bank) sells a bond, which pays interest to the investors over time. If certain triggers occur, then the principal from the bond sale is quickly funneled to medical efforts to contain and quell the disease outbreak. That way, affected regions don’t have to wait for aid money to be raised and coordinated.

Pandemic bonds are somewhat different from traditional catastrophe bonds, though. Remember, traditional catastrophe bond triggers are usually based on insurance losses (indemnity triggers), which don’t make much sense in the context of a disease outbreak. Insurance losses can take quite some time to adjust and finalize.

There’s no time for that kind of thing when we’re dealing with a pandemic. Capital needs to move quickly to the affected region. So if a trigger can be quickly determined, then the capital payouts can be made quickly as well.

That’s why pandemic bonds are triggered by, for example, the number of patients or the speed of disease spread (a “parametric trigger”). Parametric triggers are usually objectively verifiable, such as how many cases of a disease have been reported in a given time. Once that trigger is activated, the bond gets to work. No further adjustment needed.

Why are catastrophe bonds useful for fighting pandemics?

And that’s what makes pandemic bonds attractive for addressing disease outbreaks: speed. Since pandemic bonds are not triggered by losses, but rather by the actual, real-time spread of the disease, capital can flow much faster than if it had to wait until insurance losses began rolling in. That means near-immediate financial support for health clinics, aid workers, containment efforts, and more.

Indeed, the speed of capital flow to emergency response is crucial for pandemics. Global supply chains and interchange, not to mention the exponential growth in international travel, mean that disease outbreaks can spread much faster and can cause much more widespread damage than in the past. The faster a disease can be nipped in the bud, the fewer people infected – and the less disastrous the outbreak.

Pandemic bonds in the real world

In 2016 the World Bank developed the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF), which created, in part, a pandemic catastrophe bond to help provide capital in the event of another disease outbreak in West Africa. The PEF is triggered by number of deaths, speed of disease spread, and the spread of disease across international borders, and provides coverage for six viruses, including Ebola. The program has been supported by private reinsurers as well, including Munich Re and Swiss Re.

You can learn more about the PEF here.

Commercial insurance, diseases and epidemics

In a previous article, we discussed how personal insurance policies address communicable diseases and epidemics. In this article, we’ll look at how commercial insurance policies handle these issues.

Between 1918 and 1919 the so-called Spanish influenza pandemic* killed at least 50 million people worldwide and infected about 500 million people – or about 1/3 of the entire world’s population at the time.

While the Spanish flu’s destructiveness has been an outlier over the last several decades, epidemics and pandemics on a smaller scale do still happen (avian flu, swine flu, Ebola, etc.).

How could disease outbreaks impact commercial property and general liability insurance?

[Content warning: wonky]

Continue reading Commercial insurance, diseases and epidemics

Personal insurance: diseases and epidemics

In this article, we discuss how personal insurance policies address communicable diseases and epidemics. In a later article, we’ll look at how commercial insurance policies address these issues.

Measles are back with a vengeance. It’s gotten so bad in one New York county that the local government tried to ban unvaccinated children from public spaces.

Little known fact to people outside the insurance world: many personal insurance policies address communicable diseases and epidemics. Let’s walk through some of them.

Homeowners liability insurance: probably not covered

If you crack open your handy HO-3 standard homeowners policy and flip to Section II – Liability Coverages, you’ll notice that the transmission of a communicable diseases that causes any bodily injury or property damage is not covered by the policy. What this basically means is that if you (the insured) cause someone to get hurt (i.e. sick) via a communicable disease, whether you knew you were sick or not, then the policy won’t cover you for any liability if you get sued.

So if someone without a measles vaccination throws a party and ends up getting several guests sick, that person’s homeowners policy probably won’t cover any liability arising out of their actions. Doubly so if the person did this purposely: intentional acts are excluded from pretty much every insurance policy on earth.

Personal liability umbrella: probably not covered, but it depends

A personal liability umbrella policy is basically an extra layer of liability insurance. It will cover some types of liability your homeowners insurance excludes – and will also cover higher payments, sometimes up to $1 million (homeowners is often limited to $300,000).

Personal umbrella policies will also often exclude liability arising out of the transmission of a communicable disease. But not always, since what constitutes a communicable disease often depends on the specific policy. Some policies only exclude sexually transmitted diseases; others will exclude any communicable disease.

Travel insurance: could be covered, depending on the situation

Travel insurance policies can vary dramatically, depending on the insured’s needs. Two of the more common coverages are for trip cancellation and emergency medical treatment.

Will travel insurance cover you if a trip gets cancelled due to an epidemic or pandemic? Again, depends on the policy, but probably not. Many travel policies will exclude losses caused by disease outbreaks.

What if you get sick and need to cancel your trip? Unfortunately, you’re probably not covered if you got sick because of an epidemic. But for other diseases, you could be covered, depending on the insurer and a whole laundry list of conditions. For example, a sickness that would be covered often requires that the sick person be so ill that they can’t travel (a mild cough won’t pay out); the sick person is also often required to have a medical professional confirm that they were, in fact, too sick to travel.

If you have emergency medical treatment coverage, then you’ll be covered for any covered medical care, including illness. However, these kinds of policies can get very complicated; it’s important to talk to your agent to make sure you are getting the coverage that you need.

Global Pandemics Top Extreme Risk Worry

A global pandemic is the most important extreme risk for the insurance industry to worry about in the long term, according to a survey of global insurance industry executives conducted by Towers Watson.

Rounding out the top three extreme risks of concern are a large-scale natural catastrophe and a food/water/energy crisis, the survey found.

Other top 10 extreme risks named in the Towers Watson survey include cyber-warfare, an economic depression, a banking crisis and a default by a major sovereign borrower.

Votes were compiled in a wiki survey which enabled participants to add their own ideas. Over 30,000 votes were cast.

Meanwhile, a new report by AonBenfield says pandemic risk remains the most important mortality exposure for the insurance industry and is placed above other forms of catastrophic event including natural catastrophes, nuclear explosions, and terrorism.

In Pandemic Perspective, AonBenfield points out that according to historical data, pandemics are large enough to destabilize the insurance market more than once every 200 years, with three global pandemics recorded in each of the last three centuries.

This suggests that the majority of people working in the insurance industry today are likely to face at least one pandemic during their careers. Insurers should be aware that now is the time to anticipate and educate themselves on pandemic risk, and begin to model it.†

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on mortality risk.