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16 Aug 2021
by Dr Subashini M

Long Covid cover: four key questions to ask your health insurance provider

Long Covid is anything but simple. The Office for National Statistics calls it “an emerging phenomenon not yet fully understood”. Rather than a single, clearly defined condition, it’s better understood as a constellation of overlapping symptoms which may change over time, affecting any system in the body.

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So, to support employees affected by any of the components of that constellation, you need to be asking your insurance provider something more than: “Do you cover Long Covid?”

The four questions discussed below should give you a starting point – whether you’re having conversations with an existing provider or evaluating the support offered by a prospective insurer.

Q1: How is it possible to provide effective cover against a condition that’s so little understood?

Medically, there’s limited current evidence of what really works and, as Long Covid affects everyone differently, we’re still building our knowledge on the best management solutions. A recent article in the British Medical Journal anticipated many patients will recover without specialist input through a holistic and paced approach.

The NHS’s approach is to offer information on self-management and organise tests and investigations tailored to individual symptoms. They aim to rule out acute or life‑threatening complications and find out if symptoms are likely to be caused by ongoing Covid‑19, post‑Covid‑19 syndrome or an unrelated diagnosis.

Even in cases where medical intervention may not be appropriate, much can be done to relieve symptoms through interprofessional, community-facing rehabilitation services, embracing patient self-management and peer support. Your provider should be able to explain which of their products can support intervention of this kind.

Q2: Some of this support sounds to be more related to group income protection (GIP) than private medical insurance (PMI). Do I need both?

It’s important to remember that Long Covid is a chronic condition which can encompass a wide range of symptoms across varied timescales, without following a single, predictable path. Supporting long-term recovery is very much the province of GIP. You should ensure that support includes access to effective rehabilitation services to facilitate a carefully managed return to work for employees suffering from the effects of Long Covid.

Where PMI comes into its own, is in aiding swift diagnosis and ruling out the possibility that symptoms may be related to other conditions.

Also take a look at the additional benefits included within your company benefits package. It may, for example, include smartphone app-based access to healthcare provision. At a time when the NHS is dealing with a significant backlog, this can help employees gain the diagnosis they need conveniently via online GP consultations. Employers also benefit through reduced downtime for appointments.

Do check what mental health support is available within existing or prospective cover. Good support can be invaluable in countering the stress and anxiety caused by Long Covid symptoms, helping prevent further issues.  

Q3: What kind of longer-term support is included in the cover?

Given the nature of Long Covid, support that focuses strongly on early intervention and rehabilitation is key. This could be provided through PMI, or through health pathways accessed via GIP. At Aviva, we’ve seen increasing demand for this type of support as the pandemic has progressed – and employers are finding it highly effective, with 98% of employees who received rehabilitation returning to work within the deferred period.

Q4: What kind of mental health support does the cover include?

This is important. The effects of Covid-19 on mental health are likely to persist long after the pandemic itself.

There are several ways in which a provider can support mental health. One approach is to help employers and employees identify and manage issues themselves. Some policies include additional services such as training to help managers recognise warning signs and hold helpful conversations. Look for training which can be delivered remotely, in bite-sized modules at convenient times, minimising interference with core activities.

Another significant way in which benefits providers can support mental health is by easing access to professional help. Wellbeing services which encompass counselling services are an important benefit.

Again, we shouldn't underestimate the importance of ongoing support and access to rehabilitation services to help employees whose mental health may have been affected by Long Covid.

Remember, whether you’re seeking clarification about existing cover, or sounding out what different providers can offer, Long Covid isn’t a single condition and requires more than a single type of response. Keep this in mind and you’ll be in a better place to find the support your business and its employees may need.     

The author is Dr Subashini M, associate medical director at Aviva.

This article is provided by Aviva.

In partnership with Aviva plc

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