China Calls Off “Smog Insurance” Scheme

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March 25 2014 10:34 AM

China Calls Off “Smog Insurance” Scheme

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The smog didn't bother the 200 participants in Beijing's annual Undie Run on Feb. 23.

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this week there was a story making the rounds that China’s state-owned insurance company would begin offering “smog insurance,” which would give holders a free lung check if the Air Quality Index exceeded 300 for more than a week—the average daily peak in Beijing is 227 on a scale of zero to 500—and pay out $240 if they needed to be hospitalized. If pollution levels exceeded the charts, as happened in some northern cities last year, policyholders would be eligible for a free lung-clearing trip to the subtropical island of Hainan. The country’s largest travel agency also said it would offer insurance to tourists whose visits to Beijing, Shanghai, or Xi’an were ruined by smog.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

But the South China Morning Post reports today that the country’s largest insurance regulator has called the scheme off over its “lottery-esque” terms:

Hao Yansu, who heads Central University of Finance and Economics’ School of Insurance, agreed the terms raised questions and the insurance should be suspended.
“Insurance is all about probability … the current unavailability of scientific data on smog weather and smog-related diseases make the product suspicious, [such as] whether its premium is set too high,” Hao said in a telephone interview with South China Morning Post.
“It does look like a lottery to some extent, especially considering its low charge,” he said.
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Bad as the smog is, it’s pretty rare in most places for the level to stay above 300 for more than a week. It’s not clear from SCMP’s article whether this also applies to the insurance for tourists.

Premier Le Keqiang said last month that China will “declare war” on the smog problem, which has both tarnished the country’s international image and posed a serious health threat to its citizens.

According to a World Health Organization report released today, more than 7 million deaths last year were caused by air pollution.