An insurable event is one which can be defined, measured, and is uncertain. Uncertainty is crucial. Things that are certain cannot be insured. Another feature of an insurance contract is asymmetrical information – we know general risks – like how likely cancer is – the insured knows specific risks – like how their health is. We have an obligation to each other, defined in law as utmost good faith.
But of course, you know all that.
Some people don’t, and some of them are actively working to break down the essential elements of the insurance process. One of those is the right to underwrite. We need to defend that. If a person knows that they are much, much more likely to suffer a critical illness such as cancer, they will be much, much more likely to seek insurance. This anti-selection causes headaches for both insurers and everyone else in the same risk pool: people with normal risks who end up paying over the odds for their cover. Pricing for risk is vital. Does this make me heartless about the problems of the person who is far more likely to develop cancer – not at all – I am glad to contribute to the costs of their care and support them, as we do through our health service and welfare benefits if they are needed. But some people believe private insurers can be compelled to cover people without pricing for the risk to the general good of all. I wish this were the case, but if we do compel insurers to take uninsurable risks, we are likely to see insurance enter a swiftly downward heading spiral: as costs rise the healthier and wealthier lives head for the exit, relying on higher savings and family to help. When that happens the remaining pool must be re-priced higher, which in turn makes the cover un-affordable for all but the worst risks. Then the risk pool fails – and no one has cover. A valuable risk sharing tool is lost.
If the aim is to destroy the insurance industry, depriving millions of a valuable risk sharing tool, the best way to do that is to deny the right to price risk. That takes all sorts of forms: the most common we have heard of recently is that we should not be able to price for mental health risks, or that we should cover cosmetic procedures in health, or that policies should always return the whole of the premium paid, or that we can’t ask all the questions we need to when underwriting, or that it is okay for the insured to withhold medical information. We must always push back against the idea that each of these would be a cost-less decision to take and would not harm other New Zealanders. Each would have consequences. Things that are certain - or very nearly certain - like events in the past or inherited conditions which emerge in later life, are not suited to insurance. As a society we need to look after people who suffer in this way - and that is probably the role of government, not insurance.
Of course, when it comes to underwriting, insurers could do more around education. Looser underwriting rules may have an adverse claims impact. Most clients cannot know that. Material non-disclosure is not very common, normally it’s a genuine mistake. Mistake or not, some of the non-disclosure can be driven by fear or shame. Being clear about the benefits of underwriting can help reduce these a lot - as can smart question design.
In other news
AIA has announced data can be passed from Iress’ Risk Researcher tool to AIA’s Quote Builder and eApp. Click here to read more
Health insurer nib has replaced the free travel insurance cover feature that was part of Ultimate Health with some additional mental health coverage. Details are to come.
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