U.S. Senate panel hears from Chubb, others on insuring pandemic risk

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Restaurant remains open defying Los Angeles County's new restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak.
FILE PHOTO: A worker clears and cleans a table along the sidewalk outside “Eat at Joes” restaurant that continues to remain open following new coronavirus restrictions limiting restaurants to take-out only in Los Angeles County, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Redondo Beach, California, U.S., November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

July 23, 2021

By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New Jersey business owner Adenah Bayoh told a U.S. Senate committee hearing on Wednesday she paid about $275,000 a year to insure her group of restaurants, only to discover the limits of her policy during the coronavirus pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit and the governor ordered my businesses to close, I was shocked that my insurance company and coverage was not there for me,” said the Liberia native who immigrated to the United States at age 13 and now owns seven restaurants.

Insurers have largely denied claims for business interruption caused by the pandemic, saying the virus did not cause the physical damage that policies require.

The hearing, spurred by hundreds of thousands of experiences like Bayoh’s, highlighted the challenges of insuring overwhelming risks like coronavirus, and drew on industry leaders for possible solutions.

“Shutting entire economies down for an extended period and spending the kinds of trillions of dollars we’ve spent as a way of managing a pandemic is not a future solution,” Chubb Ltd Chief Executive Evan Greenberg told the subcommittee that deals with insurance.

Preparation and better response would shorten shutdowns and may allow insurers and government to share the risk, he added.

Other ideas ranged from adapting the system used to insure terrorism risk after 9-11, also being discussed by House members, allowing insurers to cover initial losses and government to cover longer-term claims. Insurers also could help distribute government support without covering risk.

One proposal would do nothing, noting that in hindsight, government support and stimulus largely healed the economy.

“A reasonable assessment is that no program is needed,” said Robert Hartwig, a professor at the University of South Carolina.

Bayoh, who struggled to get a paycheck protection program loan, disliked that solution. “I hope that I’m not sitting here in the next pandemic hoping for another PPP,” she said.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; editing by Richard Pullin)

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