Suffice it to say, there has been a lot of confusion about the rollout of the various vaccines to fight the novel coronavirus. Surprisingly, some of these issues have arisen around the question of how receiving the inoculations impact life insurance eligibility. This created headaches for underwriters in early March, as a single post by a Facebook user seems to have kicked off a firestorm of controversy that industry groups have had to quash.
A social media user living in Canada posted in the first week of March that she had spoken with her life insurer about potential complications that may arise when she got the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Washington, D.C., television station WUSA. The woman claimed that she was told by a representative of that insurer she would not be eligible for benefits after receiving the vaccine because it was considered "experimental."
However, the company in question posted multiple times in response to this controversy that there was no truth to the claim, and vaccination status "in no way negatively impacts your current insurance policies or valid Group Benefits coverage, nor does it factor into new insurance applications you may apply for with us."
Getting out in front of the issue
As one might expect, this was an issue that could have quickly extended beyond the single company accused of negating coverage based on vaccination status. This controversy also prompted industry group the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association to issue a statement refuting the social media claim, as did its U.S.-based counterpart, the American Council of Life Insurers. Paul Graham, the latter organization's senior vice president of policy development, issued a statement calling the content of the post "entirely false information."
Graham added: "The fact is that life insurers do not consider whether or not a policyholder has received a COVID vaccine when deciding whether to pay a claim. Life insurance policy contracts are very clear on how policies work, and what cause, if any, might lead to the denial of a benefit. A vaccine for COVID-19 is not one of them. Policyholders should rest assured that nothing has changed in the claims-paying process as a result of COVID-19 vaccinations."
What's the reality?
As with many issues around the coronavirus, there is indeed plenty of misinformation out there, especially online, but there is little for consumers to worry about either— with the vaccines themselves or the way they might affect life insurance benefits eligibility. In an article for Forbes, Bruce Y. Lee — a professor of Health Policy and Management at the City University of New York School of Public Health — points out that any vaccine that is now widely available for use among the general public is one that has been rigorously tested by their developers, and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Indeed, FDA approval means these COVID vaccines (which currently includes offerings from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson) are not in any way considered "experimental," as they have received emergency use authorization. While this process means that there may still be some risks involved with the vaccines, they are not greater than the ability of these vaccines to provide significant benefit to the American public. On the other hand, it's worth noting that there are still other COVID-19 vaccines in development, and those could be considered experimental, but these are not widely available and likely would not affect their life insurance benefit eligibility.
In the end, Lee makes the same recommendation the CLHIA and ACLI do: Those with questions about how this might impact them should contact their life insurers and ask about their specific concerns on this front.
A global issue
Unfortunately, this misinformation has gained so much traction online that other social media users are reporting similar issues in their home countries beyond the borders of North America. ThinkAdvisor points out that people posting from Europe (generally) and Germany (specifically) have made similar claims about their potential eligibility for life insurance benefits, and these, too, have been refuted with varying degrees of success.
For this reason, it may be a good idea for life insurers in the U.S. and beyond to do more than just point to industry statements that may not be easy for every person to track down and fully understand. Being in direct contact with policyholders about things that might impact their coverage — or in this case, not-impact — is always a good idea. This not only helps clarify any potentially unsettling claims made online, but continues to build the relationship between insurer and insured on an ongoing basis. That, in turn, can result in more business and understanding as time goes on.