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An able companion for the aged

By Vinu Pilakkot
December 04, 2003 09:19 IST

Your sojourn across the seven seas, like every other long journey, starts with a small one step: availing of an insurance cover.

This one step ensures that you are in the pink of health, physically as well as fiscally, all through your journey.

But at an age when the walking stick is your best companion, who will help guard you from health and travel perils while jet-setting?

We will, says ICICI Lombard General Insurance, which last month launched a overseas travel cover for senior citizens aged between 71 and 85 years under its Globetrotter Overseas Travel Insurance scheme.

Currently, the company claims, no private player is offering such a cover for senior citizens.

The new policy will benefit about 100,000 senior citizens travelling abroad every year to meet their dear ones, the company expects.

The number of the grey-haired travelling abroad is increasing every year as many youngsters are flying abroad to study and work. Aged parents often fly out to meet their children and return after a brief stay abroad.

The improvement in healthcare standards and the subsequent increase in life expectancy are adding to the number of travellers, said ICICI Lombard's, head of marketing, Kartik Jain.

"The US, European countries and the Middle East are the most frequented destinations. Our survey suggested the need for an adequate insurance coverage for senior citizens on the move, as existing policies were giving them a limited option. Our scheme is more of a social commitment than a business plan," Jain said.

"We have a network of over 1,200 agents across 51 cities in India. A senior citizen opting to travel abroad should submit a medical certificate from a qualified doctor that he is in good health and fit to travel. Once the documents are submitted, the policy will be issued within two working days," Jain said.

"Obviously, our policy doesn't cover people with illnesses and those who are going for further medical treatment," he said.

The minimum insurance cover is $25,000 and the maximum $500,000. The amount will be decided taking into account the person's age, health and intended period of stay.

"We are the first to extend the age limit for senior citizens. Even public sector companies are not going this far," Jain claimed. But as usual there are conflicting views from competitors.

"It is a good initiative. But a dangerous one too," said Baldev Singh of Tata AIG's travel insurance division.

"They (ICICI Lombard) don't realise that they have a fireball in their hands. The terms are not realistic. Such a policy will only mislead customers," he said.

"In a country such as India where the average life expectancy is around 62 years, how many senior citizens above 70 will clear their medical screening? I say 80 per cent will not," he said.

"It has been observed that claims will arise on 20-30 per cent policies in this group. In our country, people look for cheaper and temporary cures for even major diseases. When one lands in a country such as the US, a routine check-up is sure to bring to the fore the suppressed disease. Then a huge expense awaits the patient and the claim promptly reaches the insurer," Singh said.

"Offering a realistic policy that covers a lot more number of senior citizens and benefits them will be more desirable," he said.

"I don't mind giving coverage to a person travelling to the US from a European country even if he is 90 years old. No one from there goes to the US seeking better medical facilities and health check-ups. But that is not the case in India," he said.

"We are offering value-for-money schemes for people travelling abroad. The maximum age is 70 years. Our premiums are lower and we honour all the claims without hassling the client. Our policies offer a good deal for the client and makes sound business sense for us. Precisely, that is why we are continuing in this business profitably," Singh said.

Tata AIG has three plans -- Silver, Gold and Platinum -- under its Travel Guard scheme for overseas jaunts.

The Silver plan comes with an accident and medical reimbursement coverage of up to $50,000. It also covers accidental death and dismemberment up to $10,000.

The Gold plan offers a basic coverage of $200,000 plus additional covers for personal liability of $100,000 and loss of baggage up to $1,000. It also covers accidental death and dismemberment up to $15,000.

Under the Platinum plan, the basic coverage is $500,000. There is additional covers for personal liability of $200,000, loss of baggage up to $1,000 and an additional $100 if the baggage is delayed by more than 12 hours.

It also covers accidental death and dismemberment up to $25,000 and a further coverage up to $5,000 if this happens while travelling by a common carrier.

The maximum age for availing the policy is 70 years. "We don't insist on a medical certificate. The client fills a form declaring that he is medically fit. We go by that," a Tata AIG official said.

The public sector player New India Assurance offers a cover of $50,000 to $500,000 and the maximum age is 75 years.

"However, we issue policies on merit. There have been occasions when we have offered cover to people who are older (than 75 years)," said Reena Bhatnagar, manager, New India Assurance.

The company offers overseas mediclaim under eight plans depending on the countries of visit, duration of stay and the cover sought.

ICICI Lombard's policy covers medical expenses incurred for immediate medical assistance in case of illness or accident, including any extra costs of and prescribed transportation to India.

It also covers complete and permanent loss of checked-in baggage and "reasonable" expenses incurred for emergency purchase of essential items in case of a delay in checked-in baggage for more than 12 hours.

The traveller is also insured against loss of passport, bodily injury and personal liability resulting from death, injury or damage to a third party.

The policy also offers hijack distress allowance and financial emergency assistance in case of theft, pilferage or robbery. The claims will be borne by Lombard as it has no reinsurance for this policy, officials said.

With more senior citizens criss-crossing the globe, more insurance options are coming up. So take the first step and keep walking.
Vinu Pilakkot