Well-Being Longevity

‘Huge, huge numbers:’ insurance group sees death rates up 40 percent over pre-pandemic levels

Story at a glance

  • Excess deaths are deaths associated with COVID-19 directly or indirectly.
  • Even if COVID-19 is not listed as the cause of death on a death certificate, it doesn’t necessarily mean the virus didn’t play a role.
  • One insurance company executive estimated that death rates are currently up 40 percent over what they were pre-pandemic.

As the pandemic enters its second year running, the number of deaths the virus has caused is likely much greater than official numbers indicate, setting a historic record. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that excess deaths are associated with COVID-19 directly or indirectly, typically defined as the difference between the observed number of deaths in specific time periods and the expected number of deaths in the same time periods. 

Currently, since Feb. 1, 2020, the CDC estimates there have been 942,431 excess deaths in the U.S. 

That’s a staggering amount, as J Scott Davison, CEO of insurance company OneAmerica, explained during a health care conference organized by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce this week. Davison said that his company is seeing the highest death rates now than he’s ever seen before since he started in the insurance business.  

OneAmerica offers employers across the country group life insurance, which generally covers people 18 to 64-years-old. 

Even more alarming is where those death rates are hitting, with Davison saying it’s primarily among working aged people between the ages of 18 and 64 who are covered by OneAmerica’s group life policies. The insurance company says that’s similar to what the rest of the group life industry is seeing and is consistent with CDC data.


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“Death rates are up 40 percent over what they were pre-pandemic,” said Davison of OneAmerica’s group life policy holders.

To illustrate just how severe the current death rate is, Davison said a 1 in 200-year catastrophe would likely only cause a 10 percent increase over pre-pandemic deaths.

Notably, Davison said that even if COVID-19 is not listed on a person’s death certificate, that doesn’t mean the virus didn’t play a role. For example, Davison said a person can contract COVID-19 and recover, but the virus could have triggered a separate illness that eventually leads to death. 

“It may not all be Covid on their death certificates, but deaths are up in just huge, huge numbers,” Davidson said. 

Micah Pollak, associate professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest, told The Guardian that high rates of mortality with COVID-19 along with disability are likely to continue to go up as more people catch the virus.  

“We really don’t know what the tail of this thing looks like. The further you get out [from infection], the longer time you have to potentially develop some kind of complications,” said Pollak. 

Complications from COVID-19 aren’t well understood, as many people suffer from lingering symptoms sometimes referred to as long COVID-19. The CDC says some post-COVID conditions can last weeks or even months after first being infected with the virus that caused COVID-19. Commonly reported symptoms vary widely, from difficulty in breathing and/or thinking, joint pain, mood changes, sleep problems and changes in taste or smell. 

Excess deaths haven’t been evenly distributed among the U.S. population either, with The National Cancer Institute finding that roughly 2.9 million people died in the U.S. between March 1 and Dec. 21, 2020; 74 percent of them were due to COVID-19 with 477,200 identified excess deaths. 

After adjusting for age, the number of excess deaths among Black, American Indian/Alaska Native and Latino men and women were more than double those in white and Asian men and women. 

“It is possible that fear of seeking out health care during the pandemic or misattribution of causes of death from COVID-19 are responsible for a majority of the excess non-COVID-19 deaths,” said Meredith S. Sheils, a senior investigator in the Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch of the National Cancer Institute.  

Editor’s note, this story was updated on Jan. 7 to include statistics from OneAmerica.


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