When disaster strikes, small businesses turn to their business insurance policies for help – and those policies cover a wide range of situations, from storms and flooding to fires and worker injuries. As shops are forced to close down due to COVID-19, however, many are discovering that their insurance is of little help.
Conventional business interruption policies don’t cover a pandemic, and could potentially bankrupt insurers if they did. Given how much support businesses need right now, though, these insurance companies need to reckon with their policies, because another pandemic, as well as another wave of COVID-19 closures, could be on the horizon.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused an enormous economic downturn, decimating small businesses, which account for about half of all US jobs, and while the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) helped some scrape by, it’s hardly enough. This is precisely the sort of situation that business insurance seems like it would be made for, yet many actually have exclusions written into the policies for just such circumstances, though businesses rarely took notice. This exclusion has left businesses in a battle against their insurance companies as they attempt to cover their rent and other bills in hopes of reopening.
The Scope Of Insurance
Different types of businesses carry different insurance policies, but the vast majority carry a suite of general liability, worker’s compensation, and business interruption insurance and then add specific policies based on their activities. Sounds comprehensive, right? Not quite.
Typically, business interruption policies kick in if a company’s physical location has suffered structural damage, due to events like a fire or earthquake, while a smaller portion also cover “civil authority interruptions” – cases in which the government orders the closure of a business. Businesses whose policies cover the latter may have some standing with their insurer, since most areas did experience some type of mandatory closure. For those whose policies only cover structural issues, however, getting coverage is an uphill battle.
One way that businesses are trying to leverage their insurance companies to cover their COVID-19 related losses is by arguing that their properties have sustained physical damage: claiming that the presence of the virus on shop surfaces constituted damage. This is a stretch. After all, all kinds of germs are present in stores, especially during flu season, but businesses don’t close because of those. But while the argument may not succeed right now, businesses are raising an important point. New conditions force new types of insurance policies. Businesses didn’t have terrorism coverage before 9/11, for example, but it’s an option now. Is pandemic coverage next?
The Pressure Mounts
Though insurance company’s policies may not be readily paying out policies for COVID damages, as states struggle to support their struggling small businesses, they’re also stepping into the fray with insurance companies. In particular, state legislatures are introducing bills with the goal of forcing insurance companies to pay out to help small businesses recover. States view this as critical to local economic recovery – they can’t bail their small businesses out alone – but it’s an uphill battle in the statehouse. California seems to have the best chance of passing such a bill, but even there, it has stalled in the state Senate.
The outcome of such a bill could also put pressure on insurers in other states to support small businesses through their existing claims’ structuring, but that’s sure to still leave substantial gaps. Going forward, insurance companies will have to find ways to address such emerging crises because, while this pandemic may be an unprecedented situation, it’s likely setting the stage for similar outbreaks down the road.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.
11 thoughts on “Will COVID Force Changes To Business Insurance Policies?”
jeez. are there any good people in your world-view?
A very good question.
No ulterior motive, but a much more sinister evil – human fear couple with a leftist political agenda to exploit that fear. Govt overreaction is driven by the mindless masses who despite all the evidence to the contrary continue to believe that COVID is much more deadly then the evidence shows.
I agree that sensible protection for the vulnerable would have been a good approach but i’ll also point out that India might not be doing enough testing and that the real infection rate is likely much higher.
Anyhow the whole world can unite in mockery towards the Communist Party in China so lets end on that note.
I am more interested in how Insurance companies deal with insuring stuff in some cities in Washington State where the Government has abdicated its duties to protect and serve.
Even as savings, that assumes they invest in something that can be tapped during the crisis.
Like the stock market, apparently? I guess the Fed is the only institution that can afford to invest for the long term, and is willing to do it to an extent that erases most effects of the economic crisis on stock prices?
I called this a long time ago. I said it would be impossible to contain the virus in a country like India if 1) the virus was as deadly as they said it was and 2) the virus was as contagious as they said it was.
India has an IFR under 0.1% (flu levels)
A common sense approach to protecting the vulnerable and letting the rest of us get on with our lives should have been taken. Instead, despite all the evidence, mainstream media continues pumping out panic porn. There has got to be an ulterior motive at work here. Nobody can justify this lockdown nonsense any more. MILLIONS MORE will die from the effects of the lockdown than the virus.
That’s not how insurance works.
Insurance is about spreading risk. An adverse event happens to one policy holder, but all the policy holders have paid a small amount of money, so the insurance can pay out.
If the risk applies to every policy holder, then where does the money come from?
The only solution is to have premiums high enough that you can build up a fund over the years, that pays out all at once. Now you’ve got a savings account, not an insurance policy.
Insurance companies have a hard time offering coverage for extremely high risk, relatively infrequent occurrences that impact whole countries.
Here in CA earthquake insurance is expensive and generally people don’t buy it and earthquakes are geographically located with relatively well known periods of activity. So earthquake insurance only has 1 out of 3 problems that would plague pandemic insurance and with just one… it is too expensive.
Much of the disruption to business has been caused by government inaction or over-action. No insurance company would dare cover that. The bill could run into the trillions.
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