People with Covid-19 jabs have been less likely to die of other causes

The Economist has this report on a very large sample data investigation into all forms of mortality for people who have been jabbed against COVID-19 compared to those who have not. This is unlikely to be a direct effect of the vaccine, it is much more likely to be a consequence of sorting: 

"Large observational studies can give unparalleled insights into the safety and efficacy of vaccines across diverse populations. However, real-world data is never perfectly controlled. It seems all but certain that some still-invisible difference between people who get the vaccine and those who do not, rather than some unknown benefit of the jab, is to thank (or blame) for the vaccine’s correlative effects. Jabs are not immunisations against mortality."


Obesity and the burden of non-communicable diseases

A recent study of the cost of excess weight in New Zealand finds that the extent of obesity here costs us about $2b a year: The cost of excess weight in NZ | Newsroom It is well worth a read. Obesity is a known driver for a variety of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. The disease burden is large and the costs - both direct and in-direct were always going to be large too. To put that $2bn into perspective, it is about 8% of the total health budget. Cutting this figure would substantially reduce the number of early deaths we experience - by hundreds each year. 

We should be interested in how to get from here to there. Our obesity rate at just over 30% is not so far behind the USA at 36% and is significantly larger than the UK's at about 27%. Our goal should be to get down to a level more in line with, say, France, at just over 20%. Given the estimated costs of obesity, that drop could save us $700m a year. It would extend the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, improving, in turn, the lives of their families and communities. 

But we cannot win this prize by blaming or shaming people who are obese. It does no good. It also fails to address the context of the problem. I spent a substantial part of my life being overweight - people that dared point it out got the cold shoulder. In the end, I decided to change, but it takes a lot of effort to push against the dominant context which is that eating and drinking too many calories is normal. More than anything else that affects our behaviour, it is what people around us do that matters most. That is a complicated project which may take decades. 

The cost of care

It is hard to measure the true cost of an event like a cancer diagnosis. But insurers in Australia have done some excellent work on assessing the cost of care, at least, for many of the most common diagnoses. It is well worth a look: I see it as helping to inform questions such as how much trauma and TPD cover are required, as well as providing some context for typical, as opposed to extreme, values for treatment. Advisers keen on a New Zealand version should let us know - we're contemplating projects for the New Year!

Legal and regulatory update for the life and health insurance sector

9 Nov 2021 – The Open Government Partnership advised that New Zealand’s Third National Action Plan (NAP3) Draft Self-assessment has now been published and is open for comment from 9–23 November 2021.

10 Nov 2021 – FMA released its Audit Quality Monitoring Report for 2020/21.

10 Nov 2021 – Data and Statistics Bill first reading completed and referred to the Governance and Administration Select Committee.

10 Nov 2021 – Commerce Commission released a report on motor vehicle financing and add-on products.

Legal and regulatory update for the life and health insurance sector

8 Nov 2021 – Productivity Commission released its preliminary findings and recommendations on immigration settings that are fit for the future, also seeking feedback, with submissions closing on 24 Dec 2021.

8 Nov 2021 – Takeovers Panel issued a clarifying amendment to the Voting Agreements Class Exemption.

9 Nov 2021 – RBNZ advised that it  will be making more data available to all users on our website, sourced from existing surveys of registered banks. It will publish the following new statistical time series:

  • Banks: Assets – Loans by business size (S35) will break business lending down into small, medium and large.
  • Banks: Assets – Loans by asset quality (S50) will show non-performing loans and expected credit losses by sector, including housing and business.
  • Costs on deposits (B7) will express bank interest expenses as a percentage of deposits.

It will also expand the breakdowns available in the following web tables:

  • Residential mortgage lending by DTI purpose use (C40), to include investor borrower types and higher total Debt to Income (DTI) bands.
  • Banks: Income Statement (S21), to include ‘occupancy expenses’ – such as building costs for owned and leased/rented property – as a separate line.

Population estimates and the vaccine coverage

Marc Daalder has a good article at Newsroom which discusses the difficulty with the 90% vaccination target given the different statistics for population that are in-use. The central point is that two major government bodies disagree about the total NZ population by about 122,000 people. Clearly, that's a significant difference.

The Ministry of Health uses health services uptake as a measure, or HSU, which is the lower number. Lots more detail is available at this link. This may under count younger people, who may have never accessed health services, especially if they are migrants. If they haven't even used a health services they may be less likely to get vaccinated.It would explain why some segments of the population appear to have vaccination rates greater than 100% (see example below from a Spinoff article).

Vaccination rate

On the other hand, it may be more accurate for older lives than Statistics NZ, which estimates from the 2018 census using a quarterly adjustment for births, deaths, and migration - a good explanation of how this is done and the resulting numbers is at this link. The article is well worth the read. It also underlines the wider problem of belief in one right number. These things are difficult to get right and there are some good arguments in favour of different methods. We often have this difficulty in our sector where different people and companies have different preferred measures and there is often a surprising difference between the results each measure generates.


Legal and regulatory update for the life and health insurance industry

11 Oct 2021 – The FMA, while issuing a public censure of a derivatives issuer (FIRMA NZ), advised that it is in the process of conducting an in-depth monitoring review of the Derivatives Issuer industry, following a sector risk assessment last year. The results of the review will be collated for consideration of future industry guidance and/or standard condition review. While the review has been deferred due to COVID-19 Alert Level changes, the FMA expects to conclude the review before the end of 2021.

11 Oct 2021 – Two Bills introduced into Parliament

  • Data and Statistics Bill - intended to repeal and replace the Statistics Act 1975

  • Retail Payment System Bill - introduces a range of measures to promote competition and economic efficiency in the retail payment system

11 Oct 2021 – Council of Financial Regulators noted the passing of its tenth birthday with recruitment of its first adviser, having its role recognised in legislation, and completing an updated Memorandum of Understanding between its members.

Suicide rates in England and Wales during COVID-19, and more daily news

We hear a lot about how hard covid-19 control measures - especially those that restrict people to just home, or 'lockdowns' - are on mental health. Clearly, for some people, they are catastrophic: someone in a deteriorating relationship with a violent partner would clearly be devastated by a  stay-at-home order. While we have had some interim announcements on the subject here, which were reassuring, we haven't had much data to go on, until now. A recent study on suicide rates in England and Wales during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic helps to fill that gap.

The study was based on official death registrations from April to July 2020. It was found that there were fewer suicides than the previous year with 1,603 suicides on record, compared to 1,955 suicides in 2019. The study found the 2020 suicide rates were lower than the 5-year average (2015 to 2019 April to July period)  of 1,835 suicides. The study also revealed that men made up 73.9% of the recorded 1,603 suicide deaths between April and July 2020. The study has credited the lower suicide rate between April and July 2020 to a reduction in suicide during April 2020. That is encouraging news, it means we cannot automatically assume that stay-at-home orders will result in more suicides. On the other hand the UK plainly has a much better track record in dealing with mental health challenges that we have (compare suicide rates per 100,000 of population for evidence). Click here to read more



In other news

Lifetime: Lifetime Group set to acquire One50 Group

Southern Cross: Talking about dad's health on Father's Day

FSC Connect: Customers, complaints, code and claims - What have we learnt from COVID-19?

APRA Life insurance industry statistics release and more daily news

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) today released its Quarterly Life Insurance Performance Statistics publication for the June 2021 quarter.

The update provides an industry level view including showing premium growth and profitability by line of product. It clearly shows the serious problem with income protection contracts that has led to substantial changes being imposed by the regulator.

As a guide to the sector in Australian it is excellent. It is also an exemplar of how sector level information could be provided for the benefit of consumers, advisers, and the industry. Link


Other daily news: 

FMA Covid-19 Update – Essential Services, AML/CFT Reports and Financial Licensing and more. Link

CDC Study reveals unvaccinated people are 29 times more likely to land in hospital with Covid-19. Read the article here: Unvaccinated people are 29 times more likely to land in the hospital with COVID-19 than those who got the shot, a new CDC study reveals (

Partners Life Product changes and Benefit Improvements effective 12 July 2021: Download Product Changes and Benefit Improvements effective 12 July 2021