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COVID-19 Crisis will have diverse impacts on health and insurers

Members of parliament listened to the stories New Zealanders shared about their struggles and hardship during an Epidemic Response Committee meeting recently. No accounting of costs and benefits can be done in full for some years. The purpose of this post is not to attempt that. I acknowledge that a trade-off was made between the numbers that would become sick and die directly from COVID-19, indirectly from a poorly-managed response to the epidemic, against those that may suffer a similar fate because of restrictions due to the control measures. On balance, I prefer the control measures taken - as severely negative effects (more sickness and more death) are associated with a range of alternatives. However, the purpose of this post is rather to explore the impact on customers of insurance companies, and therefore the likely claim impact on insurers.


Death claims are much higher in markets where there has been a delayed or poorly managed response to the epidemic. Take the example of Lombardy, detailed in this news. Deaths from out of hospital cardiac arrests rose sharply, as people deferred or tried to avoid treatment, and possibly, some were simply unable to receive emergency treatment in time. Cancer treatment would likely have been affected similarly - as it has been in the UK, with some patients missing chemotherapy appointments, probably, in part, due to fear of visiting hospitals where there are a lot of COVID-19 patients. These all have an impact on insurers - as shown in these reported results from Europe: pandemic takes its toll on insurers’ first quarter results.


But that doesn't mean we have avoided all the negative effects of the pandemic. Various tests and treatment were deferred to ensure sufficient capacity in hospitals for the epidemic and they will take time to restart, let alone catch up. See: some DHBs weeks away from restarting breast cancer screening. Take cancer care: delays in diagnosis and treatment, for example, are likely to have some effects. In this news piece one patient explains the treatment delay and how they are now seeking treatment privately so that they will not have to wait. Inevitably in a large pool of people where diagnosis and treatment are delayed there will be some increase in cancers at a later stage and some increase in deaths. The difference between the effect of death claims from COVID-19 and those that may arise due to treatment delays is probably in three dimensions, time, scale, and age of the person affected. A COVID-19 death would tend to happen quickly, soon after the time of infection, compared to the cancer death that will emerge over a period of up to two years. The age of the person affected is likely to be younger, but the scale of people affected should be much smaller than the numbers that could have been affected by an un-managed outbreak. 


Three scenarios can be constructed. One was the expected claims budget for 2020 before the pandemic. It is the budget baseline. Then there is the possible scenario without effective management. Then there is the likely current scenario compared to the baseline. It seems clear that the 'saving' due to lower death claims from COVID-19 is probably large. But it not clear that the small reduction in deaths and injury due to fewer road accidents and workplace deaths may not be sufficient to off-set the other indirect affects of the COVID-19 crisis. At present, as explored in this blog post, the death rate is running slightly above last year. I think I would still expect higher claims for 2020 for life, trauma, and IP products as per this post. 


In other news:

Pandemic will reset all markets, economist says

Pricing strategy – choices and their meanings

Australia: Financial planners have proven incapable of self-regulation, but can FASEA stop the client rorts?




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