COVID-19 Phobia – The Impact of Fear

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has elicited widespread anxiety and fear, and although both are a normal part of the human experience, these emotions have caused many of us, including your clients, to change behaviour and decision-making regarding health. In fact, many of your clients who were once quite vigilant about their own health may now be feeling anxious about visiting their doctor or a hospital if they are unwell.

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s call this fear COVID-phobia, more specifically, the refusal to seek medical care for fear of contracting COVID-19 within a medical setting, whether that be in a doctor’s waiting room, a clinic or a hospital. Certainly, a large number of people have been avoiding their doctor at this time, so what has been the impact of this abstention to date and how does it affect underwriting, now or in the long-term?

Well, early reporting has confirmed a 50-60% decrease in the number of patients with cardiac issues who would normally visit clinics and hospitals. Pre-COVID-19, the ebb and flow of cardiac consults, specifically for heart attacks, go up or down around 10% year-over-year, highlighting a stark contrast from the norm (1). In addition, today’s declines of 40-50% in overall hospitalization rates bode poorly for those requiring but not seeking medical attention for varying conditions such as stroke, heart disease or even appendicitis. These low numbers are in fact so alarming, that medical organizations have issued statements urging the public to seek care as they would pre-COVID (2). There is real concern here.

In terms of the long-term impact on mortality, epidemiologists have begun to predict that in the next few years, delaying the diagnosis and treatment of disease will increase mortality by 1% or more, resulting in thousands of excess deaths, many preventable by routine screening, early diagnosis and treatment (3). In regards to insurance underwriting, credits have always been allotted to those applicants who have remained solicitous about their health, receiving regular care and treatment as needed. However, with less people visiting their doctors due to what we have called COVID-phobia, those underwriting allowances may change quite drastically. Like many things during COVID-19, we will just need to wait and see, but in the meanwhile, it is important to encourage your clients to visit their doctor if they are feeling unwell or have any serious health conditions.

For up to date information on COVID-19 underwriting guidelines, continue to check PPI’s regularly updated COVID-19 Insurers Update page (login required). Our affiliated Advisors can also reach out to the PPI Advanced Underwriting team, who are here to answer your questions.

  1. Solomon, Matthew D. “The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Incidence of Acute Myocardial Infarction.” The New England Journal of Medicine. May 19, 2020.
  2. American College of Cardiology. “ACC Urges Heart Attack, Stroke Patients to Seek Medical Help.” American College of Cardiology. April 14, 2020.
  3. Sharpless, Norman. “COVID-19 and Cancer.” Science Mag. June 19, 2020.

This article is provided by Know the Risk, an educational website that contains underwriting information for insurance professionals, available exclusively to Advisors affiliated with PPI (login required).

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COVID-19 Phobia and the Impact of Fear