As Canadian insurance regulators intensify their efforts to enhance consumer protections and confidence in travel insurance, brokers and agents are faced with a dilemma: on the one hand, simplifying the purchase of products; on the other hand, ensuring they are appropriate for the specific health and travel needs of their customers.
It’s a balancing act that often pits the imperatives of medical underwriters against those of marketers.
And it doesn’t get any easier when clients in less-than-perfect heath are confronted by the need to complete—often by telephone, or via the Internet—health questionnaires replete with medical (and legal) terminology that requires searching out definitions further down the page or in another part of the policy.
Interviewing applicants is no easy job
For agents assisting customers in completing applications by phone, navigating through multilayered questions and recording their responses accurately is no easy job. Without actually recording the interviews, there is no proof or documentation of what was asked and what was answered. Far different from the “old days” when applications were completed manually at the kitchen table.
But perhaps even more difficult is convincing customers that once they have received their completed applications, confirmations of coverage, wallet cards, and policies, they must review and confirm their accuracy, so that both the agent and the customer are literally on the same page. Applying for insurance is no joyful ask. Reliving it is even less so.
“Misrepresentations” are not uncommon
No wonder, then, that client non-disclosure of accurate medical histories, or misrepresentations of medical records, account for as high a proportion of claim denials as they do—although we must emphasize that even the Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators (CCIR), in an issue paper calling for fair treatment for travel insurance customers, cited one of its own surveys showing that claims were made on only about two per cent of the total number of policies/certificates issued, with only approximately seven per cent of those claims being denied.
As the CCIR continues to emphasize, as more applications are submitted by electronic means or by social media platforms, the roles of travel agents and licensed sellers may need to be redefined—and certainly strengthened—to ensure that their customers get clear information before, during, and after the point of sale; that sales remain appropriate to customers’ needs; that purchase advice is of high quality; that customer complaints and disputes are dealt with in a fair manner; and that customers’ expectations are reasonably met.
Media firestorms are easy to ignite
All it takes is one dissatisfied customer to generate a media firestorm because he or she didn’t understand that they were required to report having been referred for a stress test by their cardiologist, or that their medication for COPD had been changed, or that the kidney stone that passed by itself should have been reported on their medical application.
Certainly, more recorded telephone applications, more tightly controlled verbal application protocols, and applicant signatures confirming that customers have read and understood the content of their applications are but some of the options available to put applicants and agents on the “same page.”
Better that travel vendors initiate the changes than regulators impose them.
Planning a trip? Speak to your insurance provider today.