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Over 500 days of lockdown… the trends are manifesting

23 September 2021 Myra Knoesen

Group risk benefits provide protection to employees and their families at a time when they need it the most.

Alexander Forbes hosted a webinar where experts unpacked the group’s insurance experience and highlighted the effects of long-Covid in the workplace.

Safeguarding employees and members

“The pandemic has continued to have an impact on claims experience, member outcomes, their health and financial well-being. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that nothing can be taken for granted. Once unassailable businesses have been forced to put staff on half pay, unpaid leave or even downsize,” said LeRoy Munetsi, Facilitator at the Alexander Forbes webinar.

If employees no longer feel financially secure, they may become distracted, unmotivated and less productive. They may also consider cutting their contributions to savings products, dipping into their savings, or withdrawing from savings and risk products entirely,” he continued.

Group risk benefits

Belinda Sullivan, Head: Corporate Consulting Strategy at Alexander Forbes said, “At this time, safeguarding employees and members by continuing to provide crucial benefits like group risk within an integrated healthcare strategy helps to assist in the management of claims experience and future pricing trends of these schemes.”

“You can help to safeguard their long-term savings by providing (and continuing to provide) crucial benefits like retirement savings and investments, as well as group risk benefits and healthcare. In doing so, you will see improved staff engagement, loyalty and good safety and protection at work,” continued Sullivan.

“The pandemic has placed a greater focus on the importance of group benefits. Most employees rely on their employer to provide benefits in the event of death, disablement, savings and even healthcare,” she said.

Where are we now?

“After over 500 days of lockdown the trends are manifesting, and vaccination is key to slow down or limit the impact of future waves. The direct and indirect effects of Covid-19 are coming into play. Four of South Africa’s largest insurers reported increases of between 50% and 60% in death claims from March 2020 to 31 January 2021. We continue to monitor the trends,” said Sullivan.

“In terms of death benefit claims, on average insurers confirmed an increase in the number of death claims. The average value increased. The increase in claims as a result of Covid-19 linked mostly to the first wave and part of the second wave. The full extent of the second wave is coming through in the 2021 experience. Claimants are generally older and higher income earners. Claims may also be the result of potential disability claimants succumbing to Covid,” she said.

“In terms of disability income benefits, initially during the lockdown there was a reduction in the number of claims submitted due to limited access to medical facilities, transport restriction and HR processing delays. However, gradually normal levels of claims starting to filter through. The impact of Covid-19 itself on the claims experience for disability income is mixed: longer waiting periods and temporary and total disability benefits,” she added.

Long Covid

“Acute Covid is signs and symptoms of Covid-19 for up to four weeks. Post-acute Covid or long Covid is ongoing symptoms of Covid-19 from four to 12 weeks. Post-Covid syndrome is signs and symptoms that develop during or after an infection consistent with Covid-19 and continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis,” said Myrna Sachs, Head: Health Management Solutions at Alexander Forbes.

“The long-term symptoms manifest in varying degrees of severity but can disappear and then reoccur later. These could include fatigue, a cough, shortness of breath, inflammation and injury of major organs and damaging neurological and psychological effects. Of the current experience, there was a 25% increase in pay-out amounts for disability claims and 61% increase in respiratory system disorder claims for death and disability,” added Sachs.

“Long Covid may impact overall work performance, and at present, there is no clear treatment pathway and minimal but evolving evidence base. The primary factors influencing return to work are severe fatigue, brain fog and persistent symptoms. There are other factors that also need to be taken into consideration when managing an employee’s incapacity in terms of, mental wellbeing, depression, post-traumatic stress etc,” she continued.

“Employers need to support employees and inform them that they are there to support them. Leave policies, for example, should be reviewed to accommodate time needed to recuperate and the incapacity process. Mental health care should be part of the strategy, support services and resources. Employers should ensure an integrated and holistic approach to wellbeing in an organisation and facilitate re-integration into meaningful activities on return to work and must have clear, honest, open communication with employees early on,” emphasised Sachs.

Writer’s thoughts  :
The need for a robust employee benefits has increased. The adviser is integral to improving the outcomes for members, and partnerships are the ideal value proposition. Do you believe that there is untapped opportunity in this market? Please comment below, interact with us on twitter at @fanews_online or email me your thoughts [email protected].

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