By Dr Marion Morkel, 16 February 2022
Here, Sanlam’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Marion Morkel, unpacks the reality of long COVID and reflects on how the insurance industry and underwriting practices are dealing with this condition.
She says long COVID, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), presents as a post-COVID-19 condition in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually within three months from the onset of COVID-19. The symptoms tend to last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
“From an insurance perspective, we view long COVID as we do any other disease. In certain instances, we may need more detailed information when a client applies for
insurance cover; and then use that information to assess the risk based on the product applied for. In the event of a
claim, we carefully consider the symptoms, clinical findings, and impairment as a result of a claimant’s experience with COVID-19 complications. We then measure and assess these as well as treatment response against our definitions.”
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, long COVID is a new phenomenon and that means that our understanding of it is still very much a work in progress. That lack of certainty has had a big impact on our lives, especially when it comes to insuring ourselves.
Typically, long COVID is what happens when you still display COVID-19-like symptoms long after you have recovered from it.
Dr Morkel explains, “Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction but also others, which generally have an impact on everyday functioning. Symptoms may be newly onset, following initial recovery from an acute COVID-19 episode, or persist from the initial illness. They may also fluctuate or relapse over time.”
According to doctors at the WHO, there have been more than 200 different long COVID symptoms reported in patients across the globe. “Given that we’re going into the third year of pandemic conditions, this disease is still relatively new, and we are learning daily as we review the global experience,” says Dr Morkel.
Continuing, she adds, “As an example, recent research has shown that cognitive dysfunction is a far more frequent symptom than previously documented. The most frequent cognitive symptom noted is short-term memory challenges.”
As for how long these symptoms need to persist before they can be described as long COVID, there is no hard and fast rule, but four weeks after a COVID-19 infection is the general consensus.
As we also learn more about long COVID, our treatment plans have become far more targeted and unique for every individual diagnosed with this. This is encouraging for those who currently struggle with symptoms.
So, while long COVID can be a tough experience and while you may not be able to specifically claim for it, you may still have recourse. The important thing is to be upfront with your insurer.
Undoubtedly, the best armour against this condition is to follow sound medical advice. Take care of yourself, follow
best-practice COVID-19 protocols, and be upfront with your employer so they understand why you might not be able to bring your A-game on difficult days.