• Videos
  • February 2020
  • 2 minutes

Keeping Pace with Insurance Medicine and Underwriting in an Accelerating Age

Q&A with Dr. Dave Rengachary

  • Dr. Dave Rengachary
Skip to Authors and Experts
In Brief

Curious about RGA’s SUP MD Program?  Contact us at CMSTeam@rgare.com to learn how SUP medical directors can provide support during peak periods, from the summer vacation season to the year-end production crunch. Experienced RGA physicians provide medical underwriting assistance, review attending physician statements, interpret EKGs, handle complex case referrals, and much more, so that insurers can sustain underwriting quality. 

It wasn’t so long ago that the role of the Medical Director entailed a fairly predictable series of responsibilities – cosigns, manual updates, interpreting EKGs. Yet we see signs the position is evolving. How do you spend your time during an average day?

There is no such thing as an average day anymore. Consults used to come in the form of application referrals, and that of course remains RGA’s core strength. But now we are asked to provide input on prescription scoring, underwriting rules for automated engines, and scoring of digital health data, to name just a few tasks. We’re even evaluating startups with medical concentrations for potential partnerships or investments. There has been enormous change.

The industry seems to be awash in data. They say underwriting is both an art and a science, but it sounds like the shift is towards science.

Well, I won’t deny that data science is of greater importance. But medical science is also advancing rapidly. We are hearing from clients that training for underwriters must adapt to new modes of risk assessment and selection. That means reinsurer training resources need to adapt, too, and RGA works hard to keep our training current and relevant.

So, if we are seeing a move away from paper, to more automated or straight-through processing of simple cases, without human intervention, what does that mean for the profession? What is the benefit of having a medical director?

Due to increased acceleration, what’s left behind in the fully underwritten space is inherently more complex. Medical directors offer experience and specializations necessary to help insurers assess these cases. My background is in neurology, and I work with colleagues around the world with expertise in everything from cardiology to geriatrics. The point here is that this variety of skillsets, taken together, can contribute invaluable input on different markets’ approaches to medical impairments, regulatory constraints, unique lines of business, and product development. Medical directors also play a key role in basic underwriter education and manual development.

And yet we are seeing that more and more small to mid-sized insurers lack a medical director. Could this be having a corrosive effect on the industry? We are all familiar with warnings of the “staffing cliff” or talent gap, but in a 2018 RGA survey of chief underwriting officers, lack of training for the existing workforce was considered the larger threat.

Not all shops are able to staff multiple physicians to provide medical support and training, yet all insurers want to make decisions based on the most current evidence-based treatments available. As insurance medical directors, and particularly at a reinsurer, we are uniquely able to draw on data to view healthcare trends on a large scale. RGA recently launched SUP MD (Strategic Underwriting Program – Medical Directors) to help make this expertise more available to clients. SUP is essentially a staffing augmentation program, featuring both underwriters and MDs. We are familiar with the unique underwriting philosophies of our various clients and are prepared to step in and evaluate  impairments from the specific direct carrier point of view and in many cases from their prescribed guidelines.

In your opinion, what does the future look like for the role of medical directors across the insurance industry?

It sounds cheesy, but the future is what we make of it. Medical directors have often had a relatively restricted role within a company, so frankly we have to push our way into some of the opportunities arising in multiple areas. In order to present a compelling case that we belong, we have to develop new skill sets and vocabularies. We’ve made this an ongoing priority at RGA and are eager to share our learnings with clients.

More Like This...

Meet the Authors & Experts

Dr. Dave Rengachary
Dr. Dave Rengachary
Senior Vice President, Head of Underwriting, U.S. Individual Life