More insurers now offering coverage for Zika

A Town Council member holding an informational Zika leaflet before giving them out to residents on Sept 1, 2016.
A Town Council member holding an informational Zika leaflet before giving them out to residents on Sept 1, 2016. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

At least five big players involved; protection provided in personal accident or travel plans

There is now "Zika insurance" for those afflicted with the mosquito-borne virus.

At least five major insurance firms here have started offering coverage for Zika in their personal accident or travel plans. This comes within a month of confirmation that it had spread within Singapore.

Great Eastern, for instance, extended coverage for Zika to all its existing and new personal accident policyholders last Friday. They can claim up to $300 for medical costs and $30,000 if death is due to the virus.

A pregnant woman diagnosed with Zika is entitled to twice the amount of medical reimbursement, and if her baby is born with Zika-related microcephaly, or abnormally small head, Great Eastern will pay a lump sum of $3,000.

Sompo Insurance Singapore has included Zika coverage for its home and selected personal accident insurance products from Sept 7.

"With an increasing number of Zika cases reported locally and worldwide, and feedback from our intermediaries and policyholders, we see a need to cover our existing and new policyholders against this virus," said Ms Koh Yen Yen, its chief distribution officer.

  • Talks to highlight risks of gestational diabetes

    Women diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy, or gestational diabetes, have a high risk of getting the disease even after giving birth.

    One in 10 women with a history of gestational diabetes will get Type 2 diabetes within five years, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday at a Women's Wellness Day event. The statistic is from a study called Growing Up In Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes started in 2009.

    To raise awareness of gestational diabetes and childhood obesity, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) and the People's Association will hold talks on these at constituencies on a quarterly basis.

    "We hope that you will encourage your family and friends to sign up for these talks, and learn more about gestational diabetes," Dr Khor told residents at Changi Simei Community Club yesterday. The first talk is expected to be held there in three months.

    There are over 400,000 people with diabetes here, but a third do not know they have the disease.

    Earlier this year, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said his ministry was "declaring war" on diabetes.

    Dr Tan Kok Hian, senior consultant for Maternal Fetal Medicine at KKH, said there is a "rising trend" of women with gestational diabetes, the most prevalent disease among pregnant women.

    "This group of women is important because they have a high risk of adult onset diabetes," he said.

    In the 1990s, the prevalence of the disease was 5 to 8 per cent, compared with 20 per cent currently.

    This could be a result of how pregnant women are now older on average, not to mention more obese, he noted. Other factors behind the rise could be that more women are being screened and tests for the disease have become more accurate.

    In a talk at yesterday's event, Dr Tan said gestational diabetes can lead to complications like miscarriage and poor health in babies. He hopes more women will test themselves for diabetes six weeks after giving birth, and also annually.

    Yesterday, Dr Khor, a mother of three children, shared with participants how she tries to "remove, reduce and replace" to eat healthier. She removes chicken skin, reduces sugar in coffee and replaces white rice with brown rice, she said.

    "Women are key influencers, particularly for the family. They are able to influence their family in terms of healthy lifestyle habits, particularly in terms of the food they eat," she said.

NTUC Income was among the first to introduce such coverage back in April through the optional infectious disease cover under its Personal Accident Assurance policy.

This could be extended to other products with infectious disease cover, said Ms Annie Chua, vice-president for personal lines at NTUC Income.

Such coverage is similar to that for other infectious diseases such as dengue fever and hand, foot and mouth disease.

Zika is also covered under some travel insurance plans, offered by Sompo and NTUC Income.

The other insurers that provide Zika coverage are Prudential Singapore and AIA Singapore. So far, NTUC Income, Sompo and Prudential said they have not received any claims related to Zika.

As of Friday, there are 369 known locally-transmitted Zika cases and eight Zika clusters here.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health stopped offering free Zika testing except for symptomatic pregnant women and their husbands.

Singaporeans and permanent residents who opt for subsidised care will pay $60 for the test, while private patients pay the full $150.

Pregnant women who test positive for the Zika virus but cannot afford regular scans and follow-up treatment will be able to tap Medifund, the Government-run scheme for the needy, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament on Tuesday.

Other medical costs may be incurred if Zika causes microcephaly in babies. Zika also seems to increase the risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome, where the body's immune system damages the nerves, causing the rapid onset of muscle weakness.

The World Bank expects Zika to cost the world about US$3.5 billion (S$4.8 billion) this year.

Mr Sean Yeo, 36, who is self-employed and a father of three children, has bought personal accident plans for everyone in his family. He said: "I think personal accident plans are value for money as they cover up-to-date diseases like Mers, which struck Singapore last year and now the latest Zika."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'More insurers now offering coverage for Zika'. Print Edition | Subscribe