An Interview With Dr. Steven Weisbart

by Emily Holbrook on April 30, 2009 · 0 comments

Dr. Steven Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute, spoke with us today in regards to A (H1N1)u and its implications on businesses.

In terms of workers comp and business interruption, do you see any impact in those areas due to this outbreak?
Not in terms of business interruption, the disease is typically not an insured peril for that so I would say, unless we’re talking about very specialized events that have specialized event interruption insurance, there would be no business interruption implications that I could see.

In terms of workers comp you’d have to demonstrate in satisfactory fashion that contracting the disease arose out of, or in the course of, employment. I would think that that would be somewhat hard to prove unless maybe a cluster of employees at a given employer came down with it and then you could argue that they gave it to each other at the workplace. So I think it would be kind of a case by case thing. Obviously employers would be well advised to take the kind of mitigation measures and prevention measures like keeping sick people at home. But there may be some workers comp claims out of this.

If the CDC imposes travel restrictions, would your outlook change on that?
No. I mean, there are cases where order of government authority is a covered peril, but that typically has to do with situations like if there’s a fire, or other kinds of physical situations that the police or fire department require you to not travel to a physical location. This is different I think. So as a broad statement, I would say no, that doesn’t change my outlook.

Do you think this is likely to hit phase 6 as issued by the WHO and if so, would that change anything in terms of workers comp or business interruption?
There’s certainly a chance to get there and I think it depends on how the course of the disease goes. We’ve apparently had a very different experience in the U.S. than from what’s going on in Mexico. If Mexico had had our experience, I don’t think we’d be where we are today. But I don’t think anything would change from now in regards to workers comp or business interruption. I think the reason claims would or wouldn’t be paid would be true under current or worse conditions.

Every year the average flu kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. and hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. With that in mind, do you think this is a complete overreaction from the public and the media?
Oh no. We’ve been worried about infectious influenza certainly in recent years since SARS and the bird flu strain was identified and I think that given the seemingly rapid spread of infection that this is an appropriate level of concern. It appears, at least in the U.S., that this is not as deadly as it appears to have been in Mexico but there’s nothing to say the strain couldn’t mutate and become deadly, so I think we should be as alert and as extensive in communication about this as possible. I don’t think this is an overreaction at all.

Do surgical masks really help?
The only masks that might be of some help are the N95 masks and the reason they might be of some help is because they are much finer in their ability to block out droplets that might contain the virus. Anything that is not as fine a filter as an N95 would probably be of no help at all.

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Emily Holbrook is the executive managing editor for National Underwriter Life & Health and the former editor of the Risk Management Monitor and Risk Management magazine. You can read more of her writings at EmilyHolbrook.com.

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