Legend has it that American actor Ben Turpin was the first to insure his body in the 1920s. The silent film actor would have spent a handsome sum to guarantee his distinction, his trademark according to him.
Twenty years later, it’s pin-up Betty Grable’s turn to take the plunge. Insuring her precious legs for $1 million, she draws celebrities eager to put a price on their “talent” in her glittering trail. $1.6 million for Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ hands, $2 million for model Heidi Klum’s legs, $10 million for actress America Ferrara’s smile…
Stars insure their most important physical assets to bolster their fame, of course, but also to protect themselves from any breach of contract with the brands or production companies they work with. “If something happened to my breast, I would be out for months and I would definitely lose a million dollars, so I preferred to insure it”TV star Holly Madison said in 2011, according to Reuters.
For more than 300 years, one insurance company has specialized in these unusual guarantees: Lloyd’s of London. This British insurance giant is not a classic company, but a market where several insurance companies operate. It is this key player in the sector that covers the majority of insured celebrities. “We often take out policies that cover very specific things, things that are deliberately excluded from life insurance or accident insurance,” detailed to the Financial Times Jonathan Thomas, underwriter at Lloyd’s in 2010.
“If I have a problem with a finger, I can’t play anymore”
But celebrities are not the only ones whose flesh is essential to the practice of the profession. Is there therefore the same type of insurance for ordinary mortals and do they work in the same way? If all professions obviously need a body envelope to be practiced, some require more than others a significant part of the body.
Among them surgeons, pilots or even musicians. In these early business careers, which a disability would definitely compromise, personal insurance is in vogue. However, with some nuances in relation to the stars’ insurance policies.
Jérôme Verhaeghe has been the second clarinet soloist in the orchestra of the Opéra national de Paris for twenty-five years. A prestigious position that depends solely on… his physical abilities. His hands, his fingers, his mouth or his ears: he cannot play without these parts of his body. Like all other musicians in the orchestra, he enjoys a very special guarantee that takes into account the special conditions of each instrument.
“My insurance covers me when I can no longer play my instrument, it’s a complementary disability, made to measure, he explains. There are instruments where you can play with four fingers, like the trumpet, but for the clarinet we use ten fingers, so if I have a problem with one finger, it’s 100% invalid, I can’t play anymore. These insurances cover us completely unlike traditional insurances. It brings justice and rebalances the particularities of our jobs a little bit. After all, I am careful when I open oysters or when I shuck, I put on warrior gloves so as not to injure myself [rires].”
In case of a problem, his salary will be covered up to 100% of the gross amount until the settlement age of his retirement. Significantly advantageous conditions. Thus, if we can expect the contributions of this pension fund to be high in relation to the risks it covers and the compensations it provides, Jérôme Verhaeghe will end up paying only about fifty euros a month and his employer will take care of the other half, thanks to a collective contract, applied to all the orchestra’s musicians.
“When I arrived at the Paris Opera in 1997, it did not provide this type of guarantee, remembers Jérôme Verhaeghe. We depended on the basic social security scale which determines disability rates and these are ridiculous percentages in relation to the profession we deal with. For a cut phalanx, for example, it is very little, we are not entitled to anything. But in my profession we can no longer play certain instruments with this disability and therefore we can no longer practice our profession. There is, of course, additional coverage, but which covers this type of risk.
Insure your whole body or just a part of it?
Although this type of insurance is very unusual, completely adapted to these sensitive professions, it does not cover a specific part of the body, as with famous personalities. The reason? Avoid limiting its scope.
“In insurance, there are ‘everything but’ contracts and contracts that insure you for very specific things. The most protective are the first, explains Frédéric Déal, head of the Key Accounts team at Audiens. Our assessment of the risk for musicians is to say that there are many things that can make it impossible for them to continue their activity. This therefore assumes that the definition is broad enough. We have no reason to target a part of the body because we would end up with people who can no longer play and for whom we have not been able to define upstream the organ that can lead to these situations.
In the event of an incident, the social protection group specializing in the world of culture appoints an expert doctor to carry out an examination of all the members and determine whether the musician in question is still physically fit to practice his instrument. “The peculiarity of these plans is to include derogatory guarantees, which take into account that the practice of the profession is quite unique and that in certain cases there may be a gap between the reality of the situation and the assessment of social security, specifies Frédéric Déal. It is possible to get a recognition of 10% permanent incapacity by Social Security while you go past our expert doctor, it will be 100%.
On the airline pilots’ side, the operation is essentially the same. But with them, it is the loss of medical license that is at the heart of the guarantee. Every year they undergo a medical examination, which is essential for the exercise of their profession. If they fail some physical problem, it is impossible to continue their activity. The vast majority of them take out a guarantee against the loss of this license. Again, it does not target any part of the body, but includes any physical discomfort that could trigger a loss of license.
“We are completely subject to this medical visit, insists the former president of the Air France Pilots Union, Grégoire Aplincourt. In the event of a problem, we may find ourselves with fifteen or twenty years of career left, but unable to fly. What usually happens is too much loss of vision or hearing. That day it kind of falls on you and you have no choice. It is therefore essential that our insurance takes care of us, because conventional insurances would never do that if there is no accident, but simply aging.
Arthur Aflalo, 29, a pilot with Air France, agrees: “Many young pilots go into debt of up to 100,000 euros to pay for their studies.. That’s years of credit to pay back. These insurances protect us: it is a psychological comfort and a financial necessity should the worst happen.
Like musicians, airline pilots often combine this insurance with personal body insurance to cover them in everyday life. Add to that the often cushy salary amounts to which their compensation will be indexed in the event of a problem … as well as the absence of a collective bargaining agreement. Their contribution actually has a completely different flavor than our clarinetist, as Grégoire Aplincourt explains: “For a pilot at the start of his career it will be around 100 euros a month, while around 45 or 50 years we will approach 250 euros a month, to end up around 400 euros at the end of his career. And it’s for an average level of coverage. It’s more expensive if you want to be extremely well covered. But if we pay more, it’s because this coverage covers what the others don’t.
For maxillofacial surgeon Mourad Benassarou, general practitioner at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, it is a justified cost: “There is a risk of no longer being able to practice our profession at all in the event of an accident, which would require professional retraining, which takes time and is expensive, with a potential drop in living standards.”
In insurance parlance, this is what is called heavy risk, and therefore expensive. One can therefore expect the business to be (very) lucrative for pension funds. If this is indeed the case for Lloyd’s of London, the insurance company of the stars, Audiens confirms the opposite: “We naturally have a concern about being in balance, for a question of continuity in our activity, says Frédéric Déal, but our activity is not lucrative, we have no call to make money, we have no shareholders. Our only concern is to be able to continue to cover risks over time for these professionals.”