Broker Words—July 2020

My wife Hope is still pretty freaked out about COVID-19. She’s an ardent masker and views those who go without as beings essenced somewhere between the Walking Dead and animal abusers. She was ecstatic when I surprised her with fake Louis Vuitton and Chanel masks found on Etsy. With apologies to Iggy Azalea, She’s so fancy…You already know…She’s in the fast lane…From Lenexa to her weekly curbside pickup at Walmart… She reacts with Christmas morning glee when she sees Charmin available.

There are three pint bottles of off-brand hand sanitizer across the kitchen table from me, waiting to be placed in her stash. We haven’t welcomed friends to the house or spent the evening out in three months, and plans to visit both her family in North Carolina and my ailing mom in Oregon are on hold indefinitely. And it’s even worse than that…when I do escape the house to check the office mail at the PO Box, upon my return she Lysols the door handles and wipes down each envelope while I’m instructed to strip in the garage and slink straight to the shower.

2020 sucks so far, particularly from a self-centered excursion indulgence standpoint, but I don’t for a minute consider myself anything but extremely fortunate. To have my health, a loving wife, great friends, wonderful pets, a nice home, abundant food, a very satisfying job serving a great industry—and a loving God. The same God that is welcoming an unnecessarily high number of residents of nursing homes and care facilities to His Kingdom. The decision by some elected officials to force COVID-19 patients back into care facilities is abominable.

I in no way want to discount the pain and suffering of patients and families dealing with loved ones Coronavirus afflicted or, tragically, consumed, but as a publication serving the life and health insurance industry I have many questions about where this pandemic will lead us. I’m not an actuary, my penchant for groan-worthy puns notwithstanding, nor am I an underwriter, medical director or corporate investment guru…and my tech savvy borders on the absurdly self-stunted. Yet in the arena of COVID-19 implications for our industry I suppose I should be perversely comforted in the narrowing of the prescience gap between myself and our industry’s brilliant minds.

Let me begin by applauding the health insurance companies who chose to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19 on their policy-holders (and concessions made by P&C companies as well, although I haven’t seen a check or a credit from State Farm yet). Kudos to life, disability and LTCI carriers offering relief in the form of delayed premium payment forgiveness. And, as Jason Folks relates in this month’s commentary, the delayed tax deadline offers more time to contribute HSA funds. But I do wonder how the virus will affect many other more foundational aspects of our industry. The list of questions is intimidating and well beyond my ability to comprehensively relate.

How deeply will further interest rate suppression affect carriers on existing blocks and affect future pricing and COI charges? How will unexpected mortality on this scale (hopefully temporary) affect myriad concerns going forward? Company ratings? Actuarial guidelines? Underwriting concerns including paramed requirements and processes, APS delays, foregone wellness appointments and increased reluctance to seek treatment for conditions not yet critical enough in nature? It would take extended chest pain or pulsed bleeding for me to consent to an ER visit, and both my wife and I have postponed our dental cleanings, vision checks and dermatologist appointments. Hope did need to visit her primary physician recently and while the protocols now in place offered some scant reassurance, the nurse’s aide’s appearance in a full Hazmat Suit did not!

Surely there must be some type of revision to underwriting guidelines and “credits” for the age ranges and statistically supported conditions that place one more at risk for COVID-19. Will the coronavirus make current LTCI pricing even more stable and prevent or mitigate future rate increases on existing blocks? One would think so. What will it do to cost of care though, in an industry already projecting a future shortage of skilled staff? How will short and long term DI be affected? Will COVID-19 either be an exclusion or impact rates on new business? Will health professionals, a sweet spot for DI, become a “back in the day…” morosity much as the MET business and annuity interest rates in the 80s have? Even I could come up with more questions, but I’m already looting my print deadline.

If 37+ years serving this noble industry has taught me anything, it is that we will be able to successfully adapt to either a post- or prolonged-COVID-19 marketplace, and innovate to meet the needs of customers seeking relief for their inevitable times of great turmoil and emotional distress. We will continue to care for the widows and orphans. Of this I am certain.

My very favorite (and purely coincidentally only) niece Sophia Grace (aka Pineapple Jimmy) was finally able to experience her COVIDly-mangled graduation ceremony—family and friend groups of six only ushered from their cars by appointment through deserted hallways to walk across a barren stage in an empty auditorium to receive her diploma from a masked principal to the iTunes rendering of Gaudeamus Igitur. Our fear of travel during the pandemic forced us to miss it, although the pictures unnecessarily confirmed that she still absolutely dripped fabulousity. It’s comforting to know that at least one other “certainty” remains immutable.

Dozens of daily doses of sanitizer and hand washing has left me epidermally reptilian—and I’m firmly convinced that the widely circulating “proper” hand washing directions were written by the same folks who author assembly instructions for IKEA. Hope hasn’t been to her nail ladies since the “lockdown” however, and she almost vengefully cut my hair on the back deck of our house with the dog clippers. She doesn’t even groom the dogs with the dog clippers.[SPH]