Binge drinking:
A passing phase or emerging trend?

2019/08/20

A new report from the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that emergency room visits attributed to alcohol are on the rise. Visits directly attributable to alcohol grew by approximately 7 per cent year-over-year between 2003 and 2016. While the majority of the visits were by men, the rate of visits by women ages 25 to 29 jumped 240 per cent.

This report demonstrates a concerning trend of binge drinking in Canadians, which could impact morbidity and mortality rates in the coming years. The rise in visits by young adults in particular is a caution to claims managers to include hospital records when it comes to younger claimants whether it is for life or AD&D, critical illness, or disability where alcohol abuse could be a leading or contributing factor in the claim, such as in physical traumas, organ failures or coroner’s cases. Of special concern are simplified issue products where the applicant demographic might be younger age applicants or those interested in lower underwriting scrutiny.

What is binge drinking?

There is no single definition of binge drinking but researchers from the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction define it is as having many drinks on one occasion. In particular, five or more drinks for a male or four or more drinks for a female.

What should underwriters and claims managers look for?

Pricing lifestyle risks that rely on self-reporting will always prove to be an inherent challenge. Damage to organs due to excessive alcohol use may take years to show the effects, however, there are certain signs which underwriters and claims managers can look for in medical and hospital records:

  1. References to binge drinking or “frequent social drinker” in family doctor’s records, even back to adolescence
  2. Driving records with DUI charges or suspensions for high blood alcohol concentration
  3. Job instability and/or income precarity, particularly amongst ages 25-29
  4. Gastrointestinal complaints
  5. Inconsistent alcohol consumption disclosures between current and previous applications/tele-interviews and the alcohol levels mentioned on hospital letters and medical examinations
  6. A history of unaccounted for serious falls, injuries or emergency visits
  7. Elevated liver function tests (GGT, AST and ALT, Alkaline Phosphatase and Bilirubin for example) on routine lab work

Should insurers be concerned?

Whether this lifestyle trend will have a substantial impact on mortality and morbidity results can only be determined in the future. It is too soon to say what the long-term risks could be but insurers should continue to do their due diligence when collecting underwriting and claims evidence, and not overlook hospital visits related to alcohol.

Munich Re will continue to monitor trends in claims in the years to come and share industry-level results with our partners. If you have any questions about assessing the risks of binge drinking, please contact us.

Contact
Marylou Dunn
Marylou Dunn
Vice President & Chief Underwriter
Kerin Moreton
Kerin Moreton
Assistant Vice President, Claims
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