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Preparing for COVID’s long-term effects

If the current pandemic is a series of waves, the long-term effects could be a tsunami. With attention focused on vaccine distribution and controlling the current surge in cases, more consideration must be given to the shape of COVID-19 in 2021, 2022 and beyond. Millions who have already had the virus are dealing with lingering symptoms and chronic effects, so it’s imperative that we address the long-term impact of COVID on healthcare and mortality.

A new Swiss Re report, “COVID-19 and likely long-term effects on survivors,” explains how the virus can compromise the functioning of organs and systems, and outlines the effect on insurers. Simply put, we’re going to see more patients requiring extended care at greater cost along with a potential shift in mortality experience. Multiple different treatment pathways must be established for COVID patients with cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. In the most severe cases, early deaths will trigger early claims payouts, which will force insurers to reevaluate their underwriting assumptions.

The report’s authors provide a clinical, objective look at what lies ahead and offer a number of plausible scenarios – like patients being re-infected and how that could impact disease control, treatment requirements and the potential need for additional vaccines or boosters.

Another devastating byproduct of the pandemic is a sharp increase in PTSD. In response, insurers will have to expand their criteria for individuals at risk of poor mental health and consider proactive and protective measures to prevent long-term mental illness.

Mental wellbeing is a key driver of our overall health, as are exercise, sleep, diet, substance abuse and our environment. All have taken a toll during the pandemic and they are interconnected. For example, the amount and quality of sleep you get can affect your physical activity and diet.

Until now, life insurers have relied on data such as age, build and blood pressure to evaluate applicants, but these other lifestyle factors open up a world of previously unexplored data to support underwriting. At Swiss Re, we’re striving to be at the front of understanding these risks, considering the regulatory landscape and making sure this knowledge is reflected in our underwriting manuals. In addition, improved application questions will help determine co-morbidity risk factors, ensuring more granular risk assessment, and a more transparent claims process. This, in turn, could help our industry extend coverage to people who may otherwise not be able to get insurance.

All of these things should give us great confidence that COVID is not an intractable problem because our industry is built to improve resilience – creating longer, healthier lives. Understanding the aforementioned lifestyle factors will enable life insurers to help their customers improve their personal risk and longevity. Partnering with our customers in pursuit of better health throughout the life of a policy can be a win-win, and it can eliminate surprises at claims time.

Nothing in life is static; change is constant. COVID has underscored this truth and exacerbated many vulnerabilities, such as economic resiliency. Some families have been hit harder than others financially, and this is an opportunity for us to redouble our efforts to work with customers to give them peace of mind and security that when a primary breadwinner dies, the family will have the means to move forward.

The future availability and delivery of care depend on insurance, and COVID will have unprecedented impact on mortality and morbidity modeling, as well as underwriting criteria. The pandemic is an event with a long tail and we as insurers must consider all its possible outcomes to maintain our purpose as a sustainable means to a healthy society.