Data Solutions
  • Research and White Papers
  • August 2022
  • 5 minutes

Industrywide Research Initiative Provides Key COVID-19 Insights

  • Jason McKinley
  • Scott Rushing
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In Brief

In 2020, RGA, the Society of Actuaries, LIMRA, and RGA subsidiary TAI came together to form the Individual Life COVID-19 Project Work Group.

Through a series of reports, the ongoing collaboration has analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on the individual life insurance industry's mortality experience.

Thanks to their efforts, the life insurance industry and the general public began seeing an early glimpse into the influence COVID-19 was having on insured mortality, starting with the first report issued in March 2021. Each subsequent report offered greater insights not just into COVID-19 deaths, but general mortality as well. The series revealed that working age Americans’ actual-to-expected mortality eclipsed the elderly population during the pandemic and that general excess mortality from all causes increased at the same time COVID-19 deaths were rising. An upcoming report takes a deeper look into mortality causation.

For those who missed the reports, a summary of each is offered below.

The first report, U.S. Individual Life COVID-19 Mortality Claims Analysis, provides early insights into the pandemic by comparing claims frequency for individual life insurance policies by cause of death in the first half of 2020 to the pre-pandemic period of 2015 through 2019. Released in March 2021, it is based on data representing 2.5 million claims and provides distributions of policy death counts by specific causes along with analyses of total death counts, excess death counts, and COVID-19 reporting. The work is based on data from 27 participating companies representing 55% of industry face amounts. It also provides charts on multiple causes of death by age, gender, and geographic region.

In June 2021, SOA posted the U.S. Individual Life COVID-19 Mortality Experience Study, which was the first industry mortality study covering January 1, 2015 to September 30, 2020 that considers excess mortality during the first three quarters of 2020. This second report reveals a significant increase in COVID-19-related death claims in the second quarter of 2020 and slight improvement during the third quarter, noting the steepest mortality increases for those under 45 years old. Including many traditional insurance variables, the study is the first in-depth look at how the pandemic affected the life insurance industry on a month-by-month basis. 

Interestingly, the study notes, term and whole life policies tended to have slightly lower levels of excess mortality than universal and variable universal life insurance products. In addition to the experience study, this installment offers a Tableau Dashboard based on data from 31 companies representing 2.8 million death claims.

The third report takes a more in-depth look at mortality from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2020, highlighting that the fourth quarter of 2020 saw the largest number of death claims, representing a 9% increase over the second quarter of 2020. The U.S. Individual Life COVID-19 Mortality Experience Study – Fourth Quarter 2020, updated in November 2021, also finds that by the fourth quarter, all face amount bands show excess mortality over 20%. Offering extensive coverage of COVID-19’s impact on mortality on insured lives compared to the general population, the report is based on 31 companies representing approximately 72% of the industry’s face amount in force and 2.9 million death claims. The report also features a Tableau Dashboard update.

In February 2022, the Individual Life COVID-19 Project Work Group released the U.S. Individual Life COVID-19 Reported Claims Analysis, which focuses on reported death claims through September 30, 2021 to offer more current quarterly comparisons for public consumption. Data coverage included 32 companies representing 72% of the individual life insurance in force over the study period. This report was updated in August 2022 with reported claims through March 31, 2022. This version features 28 companies comprising approximately 69% of the individual life insurance in force over the study period.

The fifth and most recent study, the 2022 Cause of Death Report, furnishes extensive analysis of claims filed throughout the pandemic period through the first quarter of 2021 by cause of death and focuses on death rates by various causes.

The analysis also showcases trends by cause of death for standardized cohorts by three age categories and gender, compares patterns for many population sub-segments with individual U.S. life policies during the pandemic, and closely examines the relationships between COVID-19 and overall excess deaths. Data includes 31 companies and 2.8 million death claims from individual life policies from January 1, 2015, through March 31, 2021.

RGA, along with its partners, is continuing to delve into the direct and indirect impact COVID-19 has had on mortality. The next study, which is to be released soon, will offer new insights, and considers why general excess mortality rises at younger ages during peak periods of COVID-19 deaths. The joint effort with the SOA, LIMRA, and TAI reflects RGA’s belief in the importance of the life and health insurance industry coming together to share data and resources to help resolve common challenges.

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Meet the Authors & Experts

Jason McKinley
Jason McKinley
Actuary, Risk and Behavioral Science
Scott Rushing
Scott Rushing

Vice President and Actuary, Head of Risk and Behavioral Science, Global Data and Analytics