In a thought-provoking article, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf recently addressed the alarming decline in U.S. life expectancy, focusing on factors such as smoking, diet, chronic illness, and healthcare. However, he overlooked a significant aspect: the persistently high number of deaths post-COVID, a concern not lost on life insurers. They have observed a worrying trend of ‘excess’ deaths, which, in the first nine months of 2023, were 158,000 higher than the same period in 2019 – a figure surpassing American fatalities from all wars since Vietnam. This situation urgently demands Congressional collaboration with insurance experts to delve into these disturbing developments.
Despite the receding pandemic, death rates remain unsettlingly high, contradicting expectations of a return to pre-pandemic levels. According to industry reports, the death toll is not only “alarming” but also “disturbing,” and warrants “urgent attention.” This observation is particularly true for young, working-age individuals, as indicated by actuarial reports used by insurers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision in September to archive its excess deaths webpage, with a note stating, “these datasets will no longer be updated,” only adds to the concern. Insurers, heavily impacted by the monetary aspect of this trend, are advocating for an early-warning system to identify and mitigate emerging health issues among the insured.
The pattern of these excess deaths is not confined to older populations. For individuals over 65, deaths in the second quarter of 2023 were actually 6% below the pre-pandemic norm. However, for younger age groups, such as 35-to-44-year-olds and 25-to-34-year-olds, mortality was 26% and 19% higher, respectively. The Society of Actuaries clearly states, “COVID-19 claims do not fully explain the increase in incurred claim incidence.” This trend continued from a peak in the third quarter of 2021, when deaths were an astounding 101% and 79% above normal for these age groups, respectively. COVID-19 deaths themselves dropped 84% from the first three quarters of 2021 to the same period in 2023.
An actuarial analysis of government data sheds some light on the causes of these increases, citing liver, kidney, and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and drug overdoses. Yet, this spike in mortality is not primarily among the young working class, raising pressing questions about the health of what is traditionally the healthiest sector of society – young, employed, insured workers. The pandemic saw public health officials in an aggressive oversight role; now, the question arises, why is there a lack of investigation into this new health crisis?
The United Kingdom’s approach offers a contrast, where a government-funded independent inquiry is investigating post-pandemic excess deaths in similar demographics. The BBC reported, “With each passing week of the COVID inquiry, it is clear there were deep flaws in the way decisions were made and information provided during the pandemic.”
The United States must undertake a similar examination. A high-level, unbiased commission should scrutinize pandemic measures, evaluating what was effective and what was not. This probe should cover various aspects, including the impact of lockdowns on education, social interaction, healthcare, mental health, and the economy; the protocols dictating COVID care; the rapid deployment and use of vaccines under emergency authorizations; and the unprecedented censorship of dissent by government officials.
Actuaries and industry analysts are making a grim prediction: excess deaths, particularly among younger insured individuals, are likely to continue through 2030. This defies normal mortality expectations for a robustly insured population, raising concerns about the health of the broader, possibly more vulnerable segments of society.
To safeguard future generations and better prepare for potential pandemics, a thorough Congressional assessment is crucial. This narrative, presented by Dr. Pierre Kory, President and Chief Medical Officer of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, and Mary Beth Pfeiffer, an investigative reporter and author, calls for a deep and considered response to a complex and evolving public health challenge.