End of the road(map) for COVID restrictions
Helen Croft: "I genuinely believe there’s a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ moment when it’s crucial that what you do is the right thing. As head of underwriting strategy at AIG Life, I have really felt that responsibility during the COVID crisis."
Author: Helen Croft
Head of Underwriting Strategy, AIG Life
Thursday 20 May 2021
In a pandemic with people falling ill and dying, it was crucial that as a protection insurer we continued to offer cover to as many people as possible, while balancing the increased medical risks and practical challenges of getting underwriting evidence. But I can feel that pressure is finally easing. Which is why AIG Life has changed its underwriting stance to help more people get the financial protection they need.
When the COVID-19 disease arrived in the UK, it forced our society to completely change how we live and interact with people, to try and limit its devastating impact. A year on, the UK has managed to vaccinate over 35 million people1 for COVID-19 (I got my first jab last week) and the risks are reducing. What an incredible feat. For my part in that time, most people (more than 95%) have continued to get the same underwriting decision from AIG that they would have got before the pandemic2. Only a small minority have had their cover deferred because there was increased risk that they might suffer a severe COVID reaction2. Both of these were the right thing for all of our customers.
The industry response
When COVID surfaced, most UK protection and life insurers put a cap on the maximum level of underwriting loading they were willing to insure people to. It was targeted at new customers who had a higher chance of being seriously ill, and it became apparent early on that these people were more likely to be what the government would call ’high risk’ or ’clinically vulnerable groups’.
But like the UK government, we didn’t want these restrictions to last forever. AIG created its own roadmap based on milestones and data that would allow us to eventually return to normal and insure people who were higher risk. That roadmap has allowed AIG to reduce some underwriting restrictions in April and more again in May, so at this point we have removed most of our restrictions. As long as the numbers keep falling and fewer people are diagnosed with and die from COVID as lockdown restrictions ease, I expect we will reach the end of our COVID roadmap in June and remove the last of our underwriting restrictions.
People who have had COVID
We’ve always treated customers who have recently been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the same way as we would many applicants who say they are experiencing new medical symptoms, such as persistent cough, persistent diarrhoea or new lumps and growths. We postpone the decision for a month from when symptoms started if they tell us they have had COVID, or suspected COVID, in the last month. Most people only suffer mild or moderate COVID symptoms and make a full recovery, so it’s likely we would be able to insure them for life insurance, critical illness and income protection at standard rates after a month.
There is still a higher risk of a severe COVID reaction for people described in the news as “clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable”. If someone has had a severe reaction to COVID-19, for example needing hospital treatment, underwriters need to understand if there is any potential long-term harm and that customer would need to wait longer before we could offer cover.
One area where underwriting philosophies and rules have evolved over the last year is long COVID. What might surprise customers with long COVID is that they can buy life insurance and critical illness insurance. And if their ongoing COVID symptoms are mild to moderate, we could offer them life insurance or critical illness at standard rates.
We are still learning about long COVID and one in 10 people are reporting symptoms for longer than 12 weeks3. The symptoms of long COVID are wide-ranging, so an AIG underwriter looking at an individual’s situation will want to understand:
- How severe their COVID reaction was
- What are their ongoing symptoms and what impact this is having on their life, and
- Whether there is any long-term physical harm to the body in areas such as their lungs, heart, kidneys and liver.
The vaccine programme has been a game changer for both the world’s response to the pandemic and for insurance underwriting. The risks to our population have reduced, so we can look at reducing COVID underwriting restrictions.
AIG will not ask in its underwriting questions whether the applicant has been vaccinated because we believe that would unfairly penalise people who can’t have it. Instead, we are using the effect of the vaccine across the whole population to support broader changes.
No-one knows how the pandemic is going to progress, there are factors which could change everything, such as new variants arising. Underwriters will continue to monitor the situation and adapt philosophies and processes as the risks change, and I’ll continue to make sure I have done the right thing in our underwriting philosophies for our customers in this (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime experience.
2 AIG internal MI, 2021
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