Fear and anxiety are a very real and a very normal part of the human experience, and responses to either or both can determine our behaviour, the behaviour that shapes the very course of our lives. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has elicited widespread anxiety and fear, and apart from the effects of the virus itself, may be influencing the most basic of decisions affecting our health - should I see a doctor or go to the hospital if I’m not feeling well?
For this discussion, let’s define COVID-phobia as avoiding seeking medical care for fear of contracting COVID-19 in a medical setting, whether in a doctor’s waiting room, clinic or hospital. Certainly, a large number of people have been avoiding their doctor at this time, so what’s been the impact of this abstention to date and how does it affect life insurance underwriting, now or in the long-term?
Well, early reporting has confirmed a 50-60% decrease in the number of patients with cardiac issues who would normally visit clinics and hospitals. Pre-COVID-19, the ebb and flow of cardiac consults, specifically for heart attacks, go up or down around 10% year-over-year, highlighting a stark contrast from the norm . In addition, today’s declines of 40-50% in overall hospitalization rates bode poorly for those requiring but not seeking medical attention for varying conditions such as stroke, heart disease or even appendicitis. These low numbers are in fact so alarming, that medical organizations have issued statements urging the public to seek care as they would pre-COVID . The health concern is very real.
So, what is the long-term impact on mortality, both in society and in the world of insurance underwriting? Some epidemiologists, specialists studying the spread and impact of disease, have begun to predict that in the next few years, delaying the diagnosis and treatment of disease will increase mortality by 1% or more, resulting in thousands of excess deaths, many preventable by routine screening, early diagnosis and treatment . Within insurance underwriting, applicants who are solicitous of their health, those receiving regular care and treatment as needed, are typically allotted a certain amount of good credit with the insurance carrier. With less people visiting their doctors due to COVID-phobia, lenient underwriting rules may change drastically. Yet another way the effects of COVID-19 continue to manifest themselves in significant and unprecedented ways.
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 Solomon, Matthew D. The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Incidence of Acute Myocardial Infarction. The New England Journal of Medicine. May 19, 2020.
 American College of Cardiology. ACC Urges Heart Attack, Stroke Patients to Seek Medical Help. American College of Cardiology. April 14, 2020.
 Sharpless, Norman. COVID-19 and Cancer. Science Mag. June 19, 2020.