A coalition of insurance and healthcare industry leaders have formed a nonprofit to help global insurers screen, test and triage members to combat the puzzling rise in excess mortality.
Members of the group, called The Insurance Collaboration to Save Lives, say they are increasingly concerned about trends in excess mortality and morbidity which, even three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, have not returned to levels pre-pandemic.
Excess mortality, defined as more deaths than expected, has increased during the pandemic with estimates of 16.8 to 28.1 million excess deaths worldwide from all causes. But while COVID-19-related deaths declined through 2022, excess mortality continued to persist in many countries.
“It was the fire insurance industry that came together and created fire departments…We need firefighters because everything is on fire.”Josh Stirling, former equity analyst and co-founder of The Collaboration
Statistics show that the mortality gap increased the number of deaths in the United States by 34.8% in 2021, resulting in 892,491 additional deaths that year. Controlling for population size, the annual number of excess deaths increased by 84.9% between 2019 and 2021. In other words, the number of excess deaths each year nearly doubled, according to the California Center for Population Research. from UCLA.
With excessive morbidity comes excessive losses for insurers that could be significantly reduced through digital policyholder selection and triage.
Josh Stirling, a former equity analyst and co-founder of The Collaboration, estimates proactive screening and testing could yield insurers a 50 to 100 times return on mortality savings. More importantly, he said, medical screening, targeted blood testing and smart use of data would save lives.
“We believe insurers can positively impact the health of a large portion of the members they test and will achieve a hockey stick comeback through mortality savings,” he said.
Stirling compared the Insurance Collaboration to Save Lives to the Red Cross, the Underwriters Laboratory or the Institute for Highway Safety, independent or governmental organizations that have brought about reforms in health care, regulation, labor codes building and automotive safety.
“It was the fire insurance industry that got together and created fire departments,” he said. “We should do the same here. We need firefighters because things are on fire.
Insurance Industry Troubles May Be Ahead
Stirling believes there is a small window of opportunity for insurers to get ahead of the excess mortality problem before it becomes a major financial problem for the insurance industry. The Collaboration is seeking support and working capital to eventually roll out the selection processes nationally and then globally.
Assuming average life insurance policies of $200,000 and a screening cost of $200, the savings will cover the costs if only 0.1%, or 1 in 1,000, of lives are saved.
“So what we’re saying is ‘let’s put together a bunch of technology that detects problems’ and try to do it over an internet period, or a start-up period, or a public health emergency period, as opposed to at an insurance industry period, which is naturally much more long-term,” he said.
Insurance industry support needed
Stirling said the collaboration, with support from the insurance industry, could save 1 million lives in as little as five years. One million lives, he said, represents only 1.5% of global mortality each year and 15% of global excess mortality in 2022.
“If you’re spending about $5,000 a year on a life insurance policy, it’s not crazy to spend $100 or $200 every year or two on screening,” he said. “They should be happy to make this investment to improve the quality of life for their members. Even if you look at it from a marketing perspective, it’s probably a worthwhile thing.
Stirling hopes to have a pilot program in the market within three months. This schedule could be significantly improved with corporate sponsors.
“Even after COVID started to decline, it feels like there are mortality issues, which I think is currently a public health issue that can be addressed with insurance taking the lead,” did he declare. “I think in the longer term there is the possibility that litigation is more important than things like asbestos were for the insurance industry. So let’s try to understand that and solve this issue.
Doug Bailey is a freelance journalist and writer who lives outside of Boston. He can be reached at [email protected].
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