Long COVID’s impact on the workplace
What employees and employers need to know from an insurance perspective
Long COVID is something we’re likely to be talking about for a long time. Not only does it have significant implications for individuals, families and employees, but it’s also having a large impact on employers dealing with reduced capacity and absenteeism in the workplace.
An estimated 49% of COVID-19 survivors reported persistent symptoms 4 months after diagnosis, according to a meta-analysis of 31 studies recently published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases1.
The World Health Organisation (WHO)2 reports that Long COVID can be associated with a range of overlapping symptoms which can affect multiple systems and lead to persistent inflammation, thrombosis and autoimmune disorders. WHO cautions that Long COVID also “has a serious impact on people’s ability to go back to work or have a social life”, not only because it can negatively impact their mental health, but also because it can have severe economic consequences for a breadwinner’s family and for society as a whole.
According to WHO2, the clinical definition of Long COVID is:
Post COVID-19 condition occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS CoV-2 infection, usually 3 months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction but also others and generally have an impact on everyday functioning. Symptoms may be new-onset following initial recovery from an acute COVID-19 episode or persist from the initial illness. Symptoms may also fluctuate or relapse over time.
The implications of COVID-19 on the insurance industry
When the pandemic first hit, the insurance industry’s focus was largely on understanding mortality risk. As time passed and our knowledge of the virus expanded, however, we’ve realised that the ripple effect of COVID-19 has extended far beyond those directly infected.
A February 2022 SCOR report, titled The wide-ranging impact of Covid-19 on mortality and morbidity3, alludes to pressurised healthcare systems, delayed treatment and diagnoses of serious diseases, and a global mental health crisis. It also points out the many unknowns that remain, such as new variants arising that could circumvent whatever immunity has already been acquired up to this point.
We asked our Unisure Life Solutions MD, Aron Sharman, and our Head of Group Life & Disability, Louis Hyatt, to weigh in on the impact that Long COVID is likely to have on specific policies:
Individual life insurance
The importance of having fully portable, international life insurance cover has never been greater than since the pandemic broke out, especially with new ways of working bringing new flexibility to where individuals live and work, both now and in the future.
Aron Sharman, MD of Unisure Life Solutions, has confirmed that there has not been a noticeable impact on new policy applications due to the increased prevalence of Long COVID.
Unisure’s underwriting process for individual life insurance is best described as a filter, asking questions covering many potential risk factors, including medical history. As well as questions specific to COVID-19, Unisure also asks questions covering many other areas of personal health, including cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological and mental health, among others.
“Many more people who have Long COVID are likely to suffer fatigue and other symptoms which impact quality of life than are likely to suffer severe pulmonary, cardiac or neurological issues which materially impact life expectancy,” he explains4. “New applicants who are suffering from Long COVID, however, would be obliged to tell us about ongoing illness on their application form, allowing us to consider its potential impact on their policy.”
Group Life and Disability insurance
Because of the high incidence of Long COVID in the workplace, Louis Hyatt, Unisure’s Head of Group Life & Disability, says that the focus is currently shining brightly on Group Disability policies.
“Secondary issues in the medium to long term, as a result of suffering from a health issue, have been documented for a long time,” Louis explains5. “A long-term SARS study6, for example, found that over 40% of SARS patients had continued mental health issues for up to 3+ years after their initial recovery, as opposed to the 3.3% of the study that suffered mental health problems prior to their infection.
In light of this, and the sheer number of Long COVID cases reported globally, a significant number of which are coupled with mental health problems7, we could very well be looking at a mental health storm on the horizon. This could have an enormous impact on workplace productivity and morale, which is why employee benefits like Group Short Term Disability are so valuable for both the employer and their employees.”
How can employers and employees protect themselves from the impact of Long COVID?
- Practise COVID-19 precautions:
The best way to avoid post-COVID-19 complications is to prevent infection with the coronavirus in the first place. Maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask in crowded spaces and practising good hand hygiene remains crucial.
COVID-19 vaccination has dramatically reduced hospitalisation rates, and even though there is no research to prove the effect of vaccination on the likelihood of experiencing Long COVID symptoms, we do know that global Long COVID prevalence among hospitalised patients was 54% (compared with 34% for out-patients)1.
- Employee benefits:
Employee benefits, such as a Unisure standalone Group Short Term Disability policy, for example, exist to protect both the employer and employee. Not only does a policy of that nature cover any disability that results in a minimum of 28 days of absence for a specific sum assured (often 100% of an employee’s Basic Annual Salary), but it also acts as peace of mind that there is cover in place should the worst-case scenario in fact happen, helping to relieve financial stress and anxiety.Another employee benefit Unisure offers is International Private Medical Insurance for corporates, offering employers and employees worldwide medical cover, care and support, and access to a trusted global network of top hospitals and medical service providers. This is particularly beneficial for multinational companies with staff members located in numerous countries.
As it currently stands, knowledge and information around COVID-19, vaccination and Long COVID is constantly evolving and there remain a lot of unknowns. In the face of these uncertainties, insurance policies exist for peace of mind and to protect individuals, families, employees and employers from as many uncertainties as possible. Please visit our website for more information on Unisure’s Life Solutions and International Private Medical Insurance plans.
- Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Global data reveal half may have long COVID 4 months on, 18 April 2022
- World Health Organisation Europe, In the wake of the pandemic: preparing for Long COVID (2021), & World Health Organisation, A clinical case definition of post COVID-19 condition by a Delphi consensus, 6 October 2021
- Scor, The wide-ranging impact of Covid-19 on mortality and morbidity
- Aron Sharman, Managing Director – Unisure Life Solutions, Email interview, 16 May 2022
- Louis Hyatt, Unisure Head of Group Life & Disability, interview 18 May 2022
- JAMA Network, Mental Morbidities and Chronic Fatigue in Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Survivors. Long-term Follow-up, 14 December 2009
- Discovery, What is the impact of Long COVID on our mental health?