As Americans brace for the third winter of the Covid-19 pandemic, many are still grappling with ongoing related health and financial issues — including insurance battles over long COVID treatments and disability claims.
But for the life insurance industry, experts say the long-term effects aren’t yet known.
“It’s a work in progress,” explained Michel Leonard, chief economist and data scientist at the Insurance Information Institute. “There’s not enough statistical data at this point.”
Faced with a staggering loss of life, insurance firms saw payouts soar during the pandemic.
U.S. life insurers paid more than $90 billion to beneficiaries in 2020, a 15.4% increase in payments compared to 2019 — the largest year-over-year jump since the 1918 influenza epidemic, according to data from the American Council of Life Insurers.
Payouts to beneficiaries increased by nearly 11% in 2021, jumping to over $100 billion, the organization’s latest report shows.
The demand for life insurance policies also jumped as consumers rushed to protect loved ones.
Individual U.S life insurance application activity increased by 3.4% in 2021, following a record-breaking year-over-year growth of 3.9% in 2020, according to the MIB Life Index’s 2021 annual report.
However, the life insurance industry is still wrestling with mortality changes and how these shifts may affect the underwriting process.
There’s still ‘uncertainty’ about mortality
Stuart Silverman, principal and consulting actuary at Milliman, an actuarial and consulting firm, said the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the life insurance industry in several ways, as outlined in a paper he co-authored in June.
Two areas of consideration are “mortality assumptions,” which are projections of death rates and the “capital requirements” needed to keep life insurance providers solvent. Both can factor into the price of policy premiums, he said.
While it’s clear mortality rates have increased since the beginning of the pandemic, experts don’t know yet how factors related to COVID like preexisting conditions, compromised mental health or delayed care may affect future assumptions, according to the paper.
“I think there is uncertainty with how this will unfold,” said Silverman, noting there’s “ongoing debate” on many of these points.
How ‘long COVID’ affects mortality assumptions
Future mortality assumptions are murky for those who may be suffering from so-called long COVID, one of the terms used to describe lingering health problems after contracting the virus.
These conditions affect an estimated 7.7 million to 23 million Americans, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Nov. 21.
“It’s really difficult to underwrite for something that you don’t have a clear way to diagnose and define,” said Marianne Purushotham, corporate vice president and head of Limra’s data services.
Overall, the life insurance industry is in a “major data gathering stage,” Purushotham said, collecting information on all the ways COVID may be affecting mortality, including indirect effects like opioid overdoses and suicide rates.
She said one of the “big considerations” is whether impacts will be a long-term trend, noting that companies may not want to change pricing if mortality “settles into where it was pre-COVID.”
“It’s going to take five to 10 years for us to fully understand what patterns we’re starting to see,” Silverman added.
Source | Cnbc
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