While insurers have traditionally relied on using BMI to measure clients' health risks, it is important to look at a person’s health holistically since it can tell us a lot more.
On average, Australians, like most people around the world, are becoming larger in weight. If you look at the numbers alone, 63.4 per cent of Australians have a BMI of over 25, which is considered overweight1.
Research from the Heart Foundation also that shows that one in three Australians aged 30-65 have hypertension, and that 1 in 3 Australians aged 30-65 have high cholesterol2.
While these figures sound high, it’s worth noting that there is likely to be significant crossover. Some people with high BMIs will also have hypertension and high cholesterol but many people with high BMIs won’t have either condition.
If we don’t look at a person’s health holistically, there is a chance we could be double-counting risk factors which can result in unfavourable underwriting outcomes for clients.
Moving past BMI
There’s no doubt that a high BMI is a risk factor for a number of serious illnesses. However, using BMI alone may not be an accurate indicator of health.
For example, BMI doesn’t take into account muscle mass or body shape. More importantly, it doesn’t take into account other factors that contribute to cardiovascular health – such as blood pressure and cholesterol, age, sex and smoker status.
BMI rates in Australia are rising, but that should promote a better understanding of the risk rather than just a corresponding increase in insurance premium.
Recently, in conjunction with our reinsurer, Asteron Life has upgraded our guideline to what we believe is a far more accurate method for assessing cardiovascular risk – achieved by profiling the client’s entire metabolic risk.
This guideline is based on a study of over five million lives across a 10-year period, and uses 16 different actuarial models in its calculations. This allows us to rate the lower range of abnormalities in BMI, hypertension and cholesterol more accurately, which can help reduce clients’ premiums.
Getting the right data sooner
To ensure we are working with accurate and current measurements for your clients, Asteron Life may obtain required medical information earlier than some competitors at underwriting stage. We’ve already found that this can have important benefits.
In a recent study performed by our research and development team, we found that of the clients who disclosed a BMI of 33 to 35, 28 per cent had a lower BMI than indicated in the application3, so more than one in four clients were potentially being saved a loading by getting more accurate measurements upfront.
Improving the underwriting experience for clients
Achieving greater accuracy in assessing clients’ health is one of many ways we can improve the underwriting process and deliver better outcomes for clients.
Advances like tele-underwriting are helping insurers capture more of the information we need up-front, directly from the client. Not only can this extract more detailed and accurate answers from clients, it can also speed up the underwriting process significantly.
Asteron Life’s Healthy Lives Option is another example of how you can improve your clients’ underwriting outcomes. Simply by asking your clients four health and lifestyle questions at the application stage, you can potentially reduce their Life Cover premiums by 10 per cent for the entire length of the policy.
As advisers, you have an important role to play in educating customers about how their health and medical checks play a vital role in the underwriting stage.
As insurers, it’s up to us to ensure the way we’re assessing clients’ health is as fair and accurate as possible. That will help aid efficiency in the underwriting process and ensure clients’ premiums are based on a true assessment of their risks.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Health Survey: First Results, 2011-2012,
2 Heart Foundation, High cholesterol statistics 2011/2012 and High blood pressure statistics 2011/2012,
3 Asteron Life Research & Development team’s analysis of customer data, 2015
Tina Fisher is the national underwriting manager at Asteron Life.
David D’Rosario is the senior underwriter specialist and technical co-author of this article
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