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Underwriters see opioids as mortality threat, only 53% test for use: Munich Re

30th May 2017 - Author: Luke Gallin

A recent survey by reinsurance giant Munich Re shows that over 90% of underwriters are worried about the impact opioid addiction will have on mortality and, perhaps surprisingly, just 53% of surveyed life insurance companies actually test for opioids.

The survey included responses from 126 life insurance professionals and was conducted at the Association of Home Office Underwriters (AHOU) Annual Conference, held in San Diego, California, April 2017.

An overwhelming majority of survey respondents (more than 90%) expressed concern about the potential impact of opioid addiction on the mortality of the insured population, with a reported 63% citing increased historical opioid use by applicants over the last year alone.

As a result, one might expect life insurance companies to widely test for opioid use, but Munich Re’s survey reveals that 53% of respondents’ life insurance companies do not currently test for opioid use, with 50% saying they expect this to change. This suggests that although the majority of survey respondents are concerned about the impacts of opioid use on mortality, half don’t anticipate their company to make any changes to testing practices in the near future.

Bill Moore, Vice President of Underwriting and Medical for Munich Re, US (Life), said; “As the industry is facing one of the worst drug addiction epidemics in American history, it’s apparent that there is a disconnect between the effect this will have on mortality, and the likelihood of life insurance companies to change their underwriting policies.”

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Some 56% of survey respondents reported that younger applicants, between 35 – 54 years, more often have a medical history of opioid use, with just 20% reporting that they most often see an opioid use medical history with applicants 55 years and older.

“This result is unexpected as it is generally held that individuals ages 55 years and older are more likely to have taken opioids for pain,” explains Munich Re.

Just 8% of survey respondents said their companies will test for opioid use no matter what size the policy, while 21% said their companies do test for opioid use for policies beyond $1 million. Furthermore, 8% said their firms test at policy thresholds, which range from $100,000 to $1 million.

Moore, continued; “For life insurance companies, changing policies can appear to be an uphill battle, as it is likely to involve additional expenses for testing, discussions with marketing, or even internal concerns over timing of the approval process. However, we do have the tools and resources at our disposal to begin to detect risky behaviours or signs of abuse among policy holders, in the hopes that this may help in addressing the greater problem.”

To assist, a reported 89% of survey respondents said that pharmacy databases would be useful for screening for chronic opioid use, owing to their potential to reveal frequent prescription refills, or a number of prescriptions from various doctors.

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