Coronavirus hits travel claims: How it affects you
Australians heading abroad could struggle to make travel insurance claims if the deadly coronavirus impacts their trip or health.
Some travel insurers have said they would not cover claims relating to the outbreak if a policy was purchased after it became a "known event".
However, others state they will not process claims involving the disease no matter what date a policy was purchased.
It comes as the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) told News Corp complaints had started rolling in about travel insurers rejecting coronavirus-related claims.
At least a dozen brands have clamped down on claims amid the viral outbreak, which many insurers deemed a "known event" around January 20.
Fastcover said in a statement: "Our policies contain a General Exclusion relating to epidemics and pandemics. This applies to all policies regardless when purchased.
"It also applies to all countries, including countries where DFAT has not yet issued a Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) travel warning related."
Insurer 1Cover had a similarly strict stance, saying "it is unlikely that any claim will be covered if it relates to the coronavirus".
"However, we will assess each claim based on its individual facts and circumstances and policy terms and conditions," 1Cover said.
Cover More - which provides travel insurance for NRMA, SGIO and SGIC - said it would not cover items including trip cancellation or amendment claims, "caused by or arising from an epidemic, pandemic or outbreak of an infectious disease".
However, it said cover may be available up to specified benefit limits if travellers contracted coronavirus and incurred medical expenses or associated additional expenses.
Canstar money expert Effie Zahos labelled travel insurance policies a "minefield".
"Generally speaking, about half of insurers cover for medical expenses relating to an outbreak, epidemic or pandemic," she said.
"Cover More is one example where if you booked your holiday before their announcement was made, then you would likely be covered for medical expenses but not any other claims relating to the coronavirus.
"Less than half cover for cancellation expenses.
"When people purchase policies they generally have an option to pay more in case you change your mind.
"A lot of people are stuck now because they will be changing their mind and realising they're not covered for that part."
Ms Zahos said if travellers had paid for parts of their trip on credit card, that could act as a back-up.
"You may have insurance there … if you've booked a hotel and it shuts down amid the outbreak, then they haven't delivered a service and you might be able to get some compensation," she said.
She criticised insurers for their differing stance on coronavirus-related claims, saying there needed to be more consistency.
"It should be simple. For any type of product, you want to buy something and know that the boundaries don't change," she said.
"You expect decency and fairness in any type of contract. There shouldn't be moving parts to it."
According to the Compare Travel Insurance website, "'fear of getting sick' or 'change of mind' are not covered reasons to cancel under a standard travel insurance policy".
"You would be in a better position to recover any costs with providers if the cancellations are outside of your control," the website states.
"For example, if your airline is no longer flying to a particular destination and cancels your flight you're likely to be entitled to a full refund.
"If you cancel your flight because you don't want to go, you'll probably be left out-of-pocket. "It's worth contacting individual airlines, hotels and service providers, as some are offering penalty-free options to change bookings and may offer refunds."
It also states that many policies have general exclusions relating to epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks of infectious disease, which can apply regardless of when you purchased your policy.
"Some travel insurers have indicated that there is cancellation coverage (for coronavirus) subject to when the outbreak was known, whereas some travel insurers have indicated that there is simply no cover at all," it confirmed.
AFCA's Lead Ombudsman of Insurance, John Price, said the authority had received a small number of complaints about the denial of travel insurance claims that relate to coronavirus.
"Before travelling or purchasing travel insurance, consumers should check with their insurance provider about what their policy covers, as policies differ," he said.
"If a consumer has cancelled their travel arrangements they should talk to their travel agent, airline and accommodation providers first about a refund.
"Following that, they should contact their insurer about making a claim.
"Each claim should be judged on its merits and based on a fair interpretation of the travel insurance policy.
"AFCA expects insurers to respond quickly and efficiently to insurance claims.
"Consumers can come to AFCA if they are unhappy with the outcome of their claim and are unable to resolve this directly with their insurer."
There have now been more than 80,000 cases of the coronavirus - named Covid-19 - worldwide, with the majority of them in China. About 3000 people have died.
Australia has had 29 confirmed cases, where 15 have been cleared of infection.
However, if you travel to an affected country and contract coronavirus, Compare Travel Insurance states in "most instances medical costs would be covered".
"Your travel insurer is likely to do everything they can to assist you," it stated.
"This not only includes covering the costs for medical treatment but also providing support and updates to family members where appropriate."
For the latest government travel advice on coronavirus and safe travel destinations, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au