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Life insurance companies report a sudden rise in non-COVID-related deaths

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According to a report Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal, US life insurance companies saw nearly a 40 percent rise in death benefit claims in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic baseline, the largest such increase (so far) in the coronavirus pandemic.

While claims for COVID-related deaths were expected to jump, and did so, up 18.7 percent over the pre-pandemic baseline, there was surprise at the sudden jump in non-COVID death claims, which rose even more, up 19 percent.

The peak in COVID-19 death claims actually occurred in the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021. Each quarter showed a rise of almost 22 percent over pre-pandemic levels, coinciding with the brutal winter peak that killed a quarter-million Americans [See chart below]. By comparison, claims for non-COVID-19 deaths only reached 6.4 percent over baseline in the fourth quarter of 2020 and were at baseline in the first quarter of 2021.

Percentage change from pre-pandemic in number of death-benefit claims. Date from 20 US insurers’ employer sponsored group life programs. (Society of Actuaries Research Institute)

This sudden jump in non-COVID-19 death-benefit claims was stunning and unexpected to life insurance analysts. Industry executives and actuaries speaking to the Newspaper speculated that these “additional non-COVID fatalities” were a byproduct of delays in medical care due to lockdowns in 2020 and more recently due to people’s fears to seek medical attention or delays associated with going to their doctor.

With barely a mention in official political and media circles of COVID-19’s continuing deadly impact in every community across the country, only an analysis of death claims by life insurers suggests the dimensions of another massive crime against the population: the sudden rise in non- COVID-related deaths. Notably, the financial claims arising from these deaths are what drew the attention of the financial executives and the media, rather than the lives lost.

The results of the third quarter 2021 death-benefit claims for COVID-19 fatalities certainly underscore the deadliness of the Delta wave that killed at least 175,000 lives in a matter of three to four months. However, the jump in non-COVID-19 deaths as delineated in the Newspaper report shows the broader social catastrophe largely buried in the media. The hidden cost of these excess deaths only emerged in the accounting ledgers of these financial companies, which make their livelihoods betting on the population’s life expectancy.

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