COVID-19 and the likely long-term effects on survivors

COVID-19 is a disease we have yet to fully understand. Most people who contract it will experience a moderate to asymptomatic infection. But some survivors will suffer potentially serious long-term conditions. What does this mean for insurers?

Key takeaways:

  • The global scale of COVID-19 suggests there will be millions of survivors with long-term conditions.
  • Their symptoms fall into various groups, including ventilation recovery, organ damage, increased frailty, mental health difficulties, and those with unpredictable post-virus fatigue symptoms.
  • Long-term organ damage done by COVID-19 may impact future morbidity and mortality expectations for insurers.
  • Insurers may see claims for additional healthcare, costs for rehabilitation, lost earnings, and care costs for increased frailty.
  • Insurers should look at their long-term claim trends and into portfolio profitability to anticipate the scars COVID-19 will leave on the population's health and to improve help for survivors and factor in costs for healthcare providers and payees.

The long-term health risks from COVID-19 have yet to be quantified, but from what we know so far, there is both good and worrying news for survivors.

The good news is that repercussions for the earlier coronaviruses SARS and MERS were not severe at a population level. Most survivors, particularly the young and healthy, made a full recovery. SARS and MERS had much higher mortality rates than COVID-19, but their infection rates were much lower, with less than 10,000 known cases for each illness. In comparison, COVID-19 has already passed 30 million confirmed cases worldwide with nearly 1 million deaths.

That gives cause for concern. Although we've lived through epidemics and pandemics before, we haven't seen anything on the scale of COVID-19 in over a hundred years. Even if only a small percentage of sufferers develop long-term symptoms, the absolute numbers will be in the millions. Our research shows that organ damage from COVID-19 could be severe but difficult to identify and treat. Mental health conditions are expected to increase. The economic and societal fallout from the pandemic's containment measures will burden mental wellbeing, and the trauma from the infection risk, illness and treatment may be significant. COVID-19 will exacerbate frailties in rapidly ageing societies where many people have an increasing number of co-morbidities, requiring more care and treatment. Post-COVID-19 fatigue and other subtle or insidious symptoms are real even if their causes and presentations remain nebulous.

Insurers should prepare for the long-term damage done by COVID-19. Aside from a possible impact on future morbidity and mortality expectations, long-term symptoms will raise healthcare costs, may cause absenteeism, and increase demand for health services.

Insurers can help provide the right care and support for COVID-19 survivors with long-term illness who will require understanding, consideration and empathy.

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COVID-19 and the likely long-term effects on survivors

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