What the Influenza Epidemic Cost the Insurance Companies

Brooklyn Daily Eagle/December 29, 1918


$50,000,000 in Claims Due to the Disease, with $30,000,000 Losses to Industrial Companies—Why Death Rate in New York Was the Lowest


Interesting facts regarding the recent influenza and pneumonia pandemics are illustrated by the accompanying chart, which is designed to show the death rate from those two causes when the plague had reached its most furious stage, and then started to decline. The figures show the death rate per one thousand of estimated population, and it will be noticed that of six foremost Atlantic Coast cities New York had the lowest proportional number of deaths, Philadelphia leading with 138 per 1,000 of her population, while Baltimore had 119. Boston 82, Buffalo 79, Newark, N. J., 54, and New York 47.

The left hand section of the chart shows the epidemic at its height in the respective cities, the pinnacle being readied in all cases during the fourth week. The right hand section of the chart gives the average rate for the entire period, but as death rates are computed over a period of one year the figures given represent the number of deaths which would have occurred had the seven week period continued for a year.

Regarding the reasons for New York having the most satisfactory showing of any large city in the country, Dr. Royal S. Copeland, Health Commissioner, said:

Dr. Copeland Accounts for New York Figures

“It would be difficult to give a brief description of the various measures we adopted to prevent the spread of influenza, but one of the most important disease carriers is the public school system. When the schools were not actually closed they were under constant medical supervision, and any child who showed signs of a cold was immediately sent home in charge of the Board of Health.

“We were very careful to meet all ships arriving, and by the strictest enforcement of medical regulations succeeded in reducing the spread of disease from this cause to a minimum. The distribution of quantities of health information, the order which required all physicians to report cases of influenza immediately, and the control of subway traffic were among the most important steps taken to prevent the disease spreading, and the co-operation of various organizations, together with the prompt support by the people themselves, have undoubtedly prevented New York from having many thousands more among the victims.”

From a financial standpoint, the insurance companies are naturally the greatest sufferers from the epidemics, and many of them have been forced to reduce or entirely suspend their annual premium returns to policy holders. From a recent issue of the Insurance Press, the following is quoted:

“With the enormous claim totals life companies in every part of the country are reporting, it begins to appear that early figures underestimated the probable cost the epidemic would be to insurance. Vice President Lunger of the Equitable, in a recent address, gave it as his opinion that $50,000,000 in claims due to the disease had already been incurred, and that the losses of industrial companies alone would be nearly $30,000,000. This estimate seems to be borne out by individual experiences.

Greater Than War Losses

“The Prudential, which in the entire year 1917 paid 175,891 industrial and ordinary claims for a total of about $30,000,000, paid in seven weeks of 1918, during the height of the epidemic, over 39,000 claims for more than $8,500,000 on deaths from influenza and pneumonia alone. During the period given the total claim payments for all causes were over 78,500 for an amount in excess of $15,500,000. The company calls attention to the fact that in the four years of war, with thousands of its policyholders engaged, especially in the Canadian forces, the company’s war losses were only 11,322 claims, for $3,057,458.

“The Penn Mutual reports a total of 430 claims on 315 lives for $1,558,086 on death due to influenza and pneumonia, from September 23 to November 13. Of these claims thirty-six for $149,000 were on men in war service. In the same period in 1917 the company had twenty-one influenza and pneumonia claims amounting to $43,572.

“The New England Mutual incurred claims during October equal to almost one-third of the claims for all 1917 ($3,630,641). Its death claims from all causes in October were on 305 lives, involving 415 policies. The average age at death in October during the five years 1913-1917 was 57 years; in 1918 it was 35.8 years. The average duration of policies that matured by death in this month during the five years was 18 years; in 1918 it was 6.8 years. The total influenza claims received by the Northwestern Mutual to November 1 amounted to $562,699.

Regarding the Central and Pacific coast, several insurance companies operating in these sections are quoted as follows:

Losses in Western State.

“The Pacific Mutual in the two months ending November 15 paid 191 death claims, amounting to $536,830, of which sixty-five claims for $183,355 were influenza cases. In that period 370 death claims were reported, aggregating $958,601—almost exactly four times the average death claims of the company for a like period last year. Of course, it must be remembered that many millions of additional insurance have been placed on the books so that it would not be correct to say that the death rate was four times the normal for the period given. Of the claims paid in the two months, 13 per cent of the number were in the first policy year.

“The Kansas City Life of Missouri notes that during October 182 of its policyholders died, with total claims amounting to $360,000. Of this amount $300,000 was due to the war and the epidemic. The death losses of the Equitable Life of Iowa in October and November were truly record breaking for the company. The aggregate for the two months was in excess of the total for the entire year 1917. There were 306 claims for $619,476.

“During the months of October and November the Connecticut General of Hartford paid losses on 196 deaths due to influenza. The average age at death was 32 years, and only nineteen of the deaths occurred at an age above 40. The Fidelity Mutual Life in October paid 111 influenza and pneumonia claims for a total outlay of $274,445.50, and incomplete reports for November show eighty-six additional claims for a total of $184,160.45.”

(Source: https://www.newspapers.com/image/60026154/?terms=influenza)


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