Chinese insurer offers smog insurance policy, the first of its kind

Residents can get protection from illnesses tied to pollution, but conditions may be hard to meet

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 4:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 4:49am

A mainland firm has rolled out a new smog-focused health insurance - the first of its kind nationally - which compensates Beijingers made ill by air pollution with up to 1,800 yuan (HK$2,270).

The product was rolled out as the capital once again ranked among the 10 most polluted mainland cities in the latest figures published yesterday.

The insurance from the People's Insurance Company of China (PICC) - the country's largest insurer - is available for Beijing residents, aged 10 to 50, at premiums ranging of 78 to 154 yuan. Clients who land in hospital for smog-related illnesses, such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, can claim 100 yuan per day for 15 days.

Policyholders will even be offered a one-off sum of up to 300 yuan in the event that the air quality index (AQI) in Beijing's 12 monitoring stations all exceed 300 for five consecutive days.

Watch: Chinese weather officials: 15 per cent of China blanketed in heavy smog

The capital's overall AQI - which measures the concentration of the tiny inhalable pollutant PM2.5, the larger particulate PM10, sulfur dioxide and ozone - routinely exceeds 300.

But the condition set by the insurer is still difficult to meet as some of the capital's monitoring stations are in mountainous suburban areas, which record much lower readings than those downtown.

It would also be difficult to determine whether smog is the prime cause of a person's hospital admittance, making the insurance claim process tricky, said Professor Tuo Guozhu , of the Capital University of Economics and Business.

"There will be different judgments if one lands if hospital due to smog," Tuo said. "The insurer needs to further clarify this."

Phone calls to the insurer went unanswered last night.

According to monthly reports by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, eight out of the 10 cities that had the worst air quality readings in February were in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area. President Xi Jinping has personally urged better economic integration across the region.

Air quality in the region's 13 cities failed to reach the national standard nearly 70 per cent of the time that month. Pollution reached "heavy" or "severe" levels on 11 days in the month.

The region's readings for February were even worse than those for last year, when pollution failed to reach the standard on 60 per cent of days despite clean-up efforts by local governments since September. These efforts included dismantling heavily polluting iron and steel mills, and replacing dirty coal with natural gas.

The region saw a week-long bout of smog last month, which once again fuelled public anger. Residents in Beijing loudly criticised municipal authorities for failing to issue the highest smog alert, which would have halted certain polluting activities.

The smog also blanketed 15 provinces, with a total area of 1.8 million square kilometres.

A new urbanisation plan unveiled by the State Council set a target of 60 per cent of cities meeting national air quality standards in 2020, up from 40 per cent in 2012.

However, only three of 74 major cities met the pollution standards last year.