While larger society suffers from COVID-19 fatigue and is ready to move on, insurers are just beginning to get a handle on the long-term risk assessment associated with the pandemic.
Some of the data to date is alarming to say the least. For example, researchers are studying a COVID "syndrome" that results in deaths months after the patients get over the disease, explained Paolo Bandeira Pinho, vice president and medical director of innovation for Diameter Health.
Pinho spoke with Reuter journalist Alwyn Scott today as part of the virtual The Future of Insurance USA 2021 event.
Long After Discharge
"There was a large study in Nature that looked at long COVID syndrome, particularly those with with mild disease," Pinho said. "It was reported that two-thirds of people with mild disease would return to their physician with new symptoms, and more than half of these would require specialist care, things like long-term kidney complications, lung-heart complications, and neurocognitive disease."
For the Nature study, researchers examined more than 87,000 COVID-19 patients and nearly 5 million control patients in a federal database. They found COVID-19 patients had a 59% higher risk of death up to six months after infection, compared to non-infected people.
Those findings translate into about eight extra deaths per 1,000 patients over 6 months, because many deaths caused by long-term COVID complications are not recorded as COVID-19 deaths, the researchers said. Among patients who were hospitalized and died after more than 30 days, there were 29 excess deaths per 1,000 patients over 6 months.
"The key thing is that these aren't characterized as COVID. That's because it's long after they've been discharged from the hospital," Pinho said. "The thing about COVID is that it really kicks off a very robust immune response that winds up having fairly significant complications on organs, particularly the heart, particularly the lungs, particularly from the neurologic standpoint."
It's not only life insurance actuarial tables that are impacted by COVID-19 death threats, Pinho noted. The risk is being felt by other different types of insurance, such as critical illness, chronic illness and disability insurance.
Beyond the long-term health impact on organs, medical researchers have concerns that the pandemic spread loneliness to so many people who should not be lonely. And loneliness can lead to depression, sleeping and eating difficulties and substance abuse, Pinho said.
Prior to the pandemic, a study looked at the impact of social isolation and loneliness on an older population, he added, and found that the health impact equaled smoking a little more than a half-pack of cigarettes a day.
"Now all of a sudden, we're taking an entire society that was socially isolated and lonely," Pinho noted. "What does that mean for that society's morbidity and mortality?"
The insurance industry is interested in update risk assessments to account for the full range of COVID-19 long-term impacts. That can only be done with a steady stream of data, Pinho said, and drilling down to determine what health impacts can be tied to COVID-19.
"If I could tell the life insurance industry to do one thing, I think that the big thing is really getting access to those data sources," he said. "And really get access to those relationships that are seen between data elements that may not have been obvious to the human eye."
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNJohnH.