COVID-19: Providing Life Insurance to alth Workers

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As fight against the spread of the COVID-19 intensifies in Nigeria and across the globe with health workers who constitute the front line soldiers risking their lives, Ebere Nwoji looks at the need for enforcement of Workers’ Group Life Insurance policy in Nigeria

Recent reports on number of health workers worldwide who have made the supreme sacrifice of losing their lives in the ongoing fight against Covid-19, points to the need for effective implementation and enforcement of the compulsory employers’ liability /group life insurance scheme in Nigeria.

The insurance policy is one of the compulsory insurance meant to protect the interest of workers who die while in active service.
Its implementation in Nigeria would help families of health workers and other professionals in other sectors who lose their lives while in active service.

With the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 across the globe and the speed with which health workers who constitute the front line soldiers in the lingering fight against the much dreaded virus, a good number of health workers have lost their lives many have been placed under isolation while others are currently struggling with the virus.

For instance, there are media reports that in some Asian countries, about 35 doctors have lost their lives in the ongoing fight while no less than 4,200 other health workers have been placed in isolation.

Their death and infection with the disease has been attributed to shortage of protective equipment, a situation which has compelled them to complain bitterly while some in their workers’ union threatened to down tool at this critical time.
Here in Nigeria, nurses in Enugu state for instance, were alleged to have recently taken to the streets, protesting against the non-provision of protective equipment even as they were expected to attend to COVID-19 infected persons.

Though there has not been any confirmed case of death of Nigerian health workers in the fight, the case of the fight against outbreak of Ebola in 2014 readily comes to mind as a medical doctor in Lagos, Dr Stella Adadevoh, who treated the victim lost her life by contacting the virus in the course of discharging her duty.

Often times, the family of the victim is left with little or no compensation to keep their lives moving.
But there is an insurance policy, the Employers’ liability insurance meant to compensate the worker in case of permanent disability or the family in case of death as stipulated by the Pension Reform Act 2014.

Section 4 (5), of the Pension Reform Act, 2014 states that, “Every employer shall maintain a group life insurance policy in favour of each employee for a minimum of three times the annual total emolument of the employee and premium shall be paid not later than the date of commencement of the cover.”

Unfortunately, this policy has over the years been treated with levity by both private and public sector employers because of lack of enforcement.
Most private sector employers do not want to hear about group life insurance arrangement for their workers as they see it as bogus condition of service and unnecessary burden to their organisations, while public sector employers like local, state and federal government who see it as a necessary condition of service treat it with levity.

For instance in the 2019 second quarter report of the National Pension Commission (PenCom), where the commission displayed on its website the performance of various state governments regarding compliance with group life insurance for their workers, whereas Section 9 (3) of the 2014 PRA Act requires every employer to which the Act applies, to take a life insurance policy for its employees for a minimum of three times the annual total emolument of the employees, sub-section 2.1 of the Act further states that the employer shall fully bear all costs in relation to procurement of the life policy in addition to and separate from the contributions to be made by the employer to each employee’s RSA, most states have no group life insurance policy arrangement for their workers.

For instance, out of the 36 states, 35 states have no group life insurance arrangement for their workers.
At the federal level, the story is not so much different as year-in-year-out payment of premium for group life insurance of federal government workers is always a problem

At federal level, THISDAY gathered from the office of Head of Service of the Federation that in the yearly appropriation bill, government often map out about N5.4 billion for insurance including group life insurance of its workers but often, this money is not released. With the result that some years, part of the money was released in the third quarter of the year and of course it will not be fully released.

The result is that because of the no-premium-no cover regulatory policy which allows insurance underwriters to cover only insurance policies that are fully paid for, all government workers including the health sector workers who died during the period the group life insurance allocation was not released will have nothing paid to their families.

During this period, the best the employers do to family of any of their deceased worker is to give out a paltry cheque or cash to the dependents which would never be up to what the law states, which is minimum of three times his Annual total emolument.

This has been happening over the years whereas government in the annual budget map out specific amount for this. In 2020 budget, a total of N15 billion was mapped out for payment of group life insurance of workers in MDAs, but as at today, nothing has been released out of that This meant that in the event of loss occurring, particularly death, the government would pay compensation from taxpayers’ money, a burden that could have been transferred to the insurers known to be professional risk bearers.

Against this backdrop, former Chairman, Nigeria Insurers Association(NIA) and president Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria(CIIN), Mr. Eddie Efekoha, said the delay, not only distorts the industry’s business plans and activities, but also goes contrary to government’s promise of leading by good example in payment of premium for insurances of its assets and life cover for its work force.

According to him, the most disturbing part of it was that the delay was fast becoming the culture of the government, as every year, instead of renewing contract with insurance firms concerned in January, the government would wait until last quarter of the year and when it pays, it is always in part.
He noted that in the course of the delay, some workers whose families were supposed to benefit from the compulsory group life insurance policy, lose their lives, raising the question on how government settles such dependents.

What this means is that in the ongoing fight against the COVID-19, some health worker that lose their lives, may not have life insurance cover.
Perhaps, it was in realisation of this that the Nigeria Insurers Association(NIA) came out to voluntarily provide life insurance cover to any health worker that loses his life in the COVID-19 fight as well as promised to provide some protective kits to the health workers.

To compel employers of labour to comply with the group life policy, PenCom early this year, ordered all employers of labour covered by the Pension Reform Act 2014, to submit copies of the insurance certificates with the schedule of benefits of their employees to the commission.

PenCom, in a circular titled, “compliance with guidelines for life insurance policy for employers and submission of insurance certificates for 2020 sent to various employers,” had stated that, “in accordance with the provisions of Section 4(5) of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2014 and Section 5.5 of the Guidelines for Life Insurance Policy for Employees, employers of labour covered by the PRA 2014 are required to submit copies of the Insurance Certificates with the schedule of benefits to the National Pension Commission (PenCom).”

According to the commission, the insurance certificates shall state that all employees are covered up to an amount not less than three times their respective Annual Total Emoluments (ATE).

“Employers that have not yet submitted copies of insurance certificates for the current year to the commission, are therefore advised to do so before 31 March, 2020 failing which the National Pension Commission would consider such employers in default of Section 4(5) of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2014,″ PenCom stated.
With ongoing fight against COVID-19, government should ensure the release of fund to insurers for their group life insurance cover to motivate the workers.