Coronavirus spurring big claims volume in life insurance

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(Bloomberg) -- U.S. life insurers may face as much as $7.2 billion in claims if coronavirus deaths rise to the high end of projections of 150,000, according to consultant Aite Group LLC.

The estimate includes costs for policyholders between the ages of 56 and 74, which are projected to reach as much as a combined $4.1 billion for individual and group plans, the researcher said in a study released Thursday. Life insurers are in good shape and should be able to manage surging costs, according to the report’s author, Samantha Chow.

“There’s no doubt that they’re prepared financially,” Chow, a senior life and annuity analyst at Aite Group, said in a phone interview from Tampa, Florida. “They expect the worst and they prepare for the worst.”

U.S. deaths from Covid-19 had surged to a total near 60,000 as of Wednesday, more than double the figure from two weeks earlier. MetLife Inc., the biggest U.S. life insurer, is “well prepared” for the crisis, Chief Executive Officer Michel Khalaf wrote in a letter to shareholders Wednesday. The company has boosted capital, even tapping the bond market for $1 billion in March as the outbreak spread, he wrote.

Individual policies would account for 81% of claims, while group plans such as those offered by employers would make up the rest, the Aite study found. Insurers’ main challenge will be how to handle claims as economic hardship spreads, Chow said.

“The biggest issue is going to be that these beneficiaries that are calling after losing a loved one who might have passed as a result of Covid-19 -- they’ve incurred a lot of health-care costs,” she said. “They might need the money really quickly in order to survive.”

Bloomberg News