Life-Insurance Payouts Hit Record $100 Billion in 2021

U.S. life insurers paid a record $100 billion in 2021 in death benefits, fueled by another year of Covid-19 deaths, an industry trade group said.

Payouts rose 11% in 2021 to $100.19 billion, most likely due to the pandemic, according to the American Council of Life Insurers. The increase was on the heels of a 15% year-over-year rise in 2020, when death-benefit payments totaled $90.43 billion.

The ACLI compiles data from annual filings by insurers to state insurance departments. Given limitations in the filings, the group can’t break down causes of death, but it is reasonable to attribute the bulk of the increases to the pandemic, said

Andrew Melnyk,

ACLI vice president of research and chief economist.

The year-over-year increases are among the largest since the 1918 flu pandemic, when payments surged 41%. They are far above the 4.9% average from 2011 to 2021, the ACLI said.

Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. jumped 20% in 2021 to approximately 460,000, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths trended younger as the Delta variant raced through the country, though older Americans still largely were the victims.

The Delta deaths substantially boosted payouts under employers’ benefit programs, though most of the $100 billion came from individually owned policies, according to ACLI data.

Myrna Guerrero,

a national sales director for

Primerica Inc.,

one of the nation’s biggest sellers of term-life policies, said it was tragic last year to see young families hit with Covid-19 deaths. In two instances of term-life policies sold by her Phoenix-area office, policyholders left behind three or more children.

“Obviously, we won’t take the pain away of losing somebody, but financially they will be OK,” Ms. Guerrero

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