A coalition of insurance and healthcare industry leaders has formed a nonprofit organization to help global insurers screen, test and triage members to combat the bewildering rise in excess deaths.
Members of the group, called The Insurance Collaboration to Save Lives, say they are increasingly concerned about trends in excess mortality and morbidity that, even three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
The excess death rate, defined as more deaths than would normally be expected, has increased during the pandemic with an estimate of 16.8 to 28.1 million excess deaths worldwide from all causes. But as deaths related to COVID-19 declined through 2022, excess deaths persisted in many countries.
“It was the fire insurance industry that got together and created fire departments… We need some fire brigades, because things are burning.”Josh Sterling is a former stock analyst and co-founder of Collaboration
Statistics show that the death gap increased the number of deaths in the United States by 34.8% in 2021, resulting in 892,491 excess deaths that year. When controlling for population size, the annual number of excess deaths rises 84.9% between 2019 and 2021. In other words, the number of excess deaths roughly doubles each year, according to the California Center for Population Research at UCLA.
With the increase in disease comes excess losses for insurance companies that can be largely suppressed through digital screening and screening of policyholders.
Josh Sterling, a former equity analyst and co-founder of Collaboration, estimates that proactive screening and testing can bring insurers 50 to 100 times a return in mortality savings. More importantly, though, he said, health screening, targeted blood testing, and smart use of data would save lives.
“We believe that insurance companies can positively impact the health of a significant proportion of the members they test and will generate an impressive return on mortality savings,” he said.
Stirling compared the life-saving insurance collaboration to the Red Cross, the Insurance Lab, the Institute for Highway Safety, and independent or governmental organizations that have brought about reforms in health care, regulation, building codes, and auto safety.
“It was the fire insurance industry that got together and created the fire departments,” he said. “We should do the same here. We need some firefighters, because things are on fire.”
Insurance industry problems may be ahead
Stirling believes there is a small chance for insurers to overcome the excess mortality problem before it becomes a major financial problem for the insurance industry. Collaboration is seeking support and working capital to eventually launch screenings nationwide, and then worldwide.
Assuming the average life insurance policy is $200,000 and the cost of the examination is $200, the savings would cover the costs if at least 0.1%, or 1 in every 1,000 lives, were saved.
“So what we’re saying is ‘let’s put together a suite of technologies that detect problems’ and let’s try to do this on an internet timeframe, a startup timeframe, a public health emergency timeframe, rather than an insurance industry timeframe, which is naturally more long-term.” term in nature,” he said.
Insurance industry support is needed
Stirling said the collaboration, backed by the insurance industry, could save 1 million lives in less than five years. He said one million people accounted for only 1.5% of global deaths each year, and 15% of excess deaths globally in 2022.
“If you’re spending close to $5,000 a year on a life insurance policy, it’s not crazy to spend $100 or $200 every year or every two years on a checkup,” he said. “They should be happy to make this investment to improve the quality of life of their members. Even if you look at it from a marketing point of view, it’s probably worth making.”
Stirling hopes to get the pilot program on the market within three months. This schedule could be greatly improved with corporate sponsors.
“Even after COVID started to subside, there seemed to be issues with the death rate, which I think is now a public health problem that can be addressed by insurance companies taking the lead,” he said. “I think in the long term, there is a greater potential for litigation from this than things like asbestos for the insurance industry. So, let’s try to figure that out and solve this problem.”
Doug Bailey is a freelance journalist and writer who lives outside of Boston. It can be accessed at [email protected].
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