Workers at life and health insurance companies have been trying to help their customers cope with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks while worrying about their own friends, relatives and colleagues. Two hijacked commercial passenger jets rammed the twin towers at the Manhattan World Trade Center complex Tuesday morning, causing both towers to collapse in less than two hours and causing an adjacent building, World Trade Center 7, to collapse in the afternoon.
A third passenger jet crashed into the Pentagon, outside of Washington, D.C., and a fourth jet crashed in Pennsylvania. At least 150 civilians and military personnel were believed to be missing at the Pentagon.
The four crashes killed all 266 people aboard, officials said.
New York officials had not yet released an official estimate of the number of Trade Center-attack deaths at press time. But The New York Times reported that the tally of those who were missing and feared to be dead included Neil Levin, the former New York insurance superintendent, who had recently left the insurance department to take a high-level job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The Times tally of the missing also included 200 other employees of the Port Authority, 360 firefighters and police officers, and 1,500 employees of three of the hundreds of companies with Trade Center offices.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Thursday that the city had more than 4,763 names on its list of persons connected with the Trade Center complex who appeared to be missing.
One of the Trade Center tenants in the insurance industry, Empire HealthChoice Inc., the parent company of Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, was relieved to report on Sept. 12 that at least 1,785 of the 1,914 employees who worked at the complex had survived. Empire said only 12 were injured seriously enough to be hospitalized.
Aon Corp., Chicago, reported that the “vast majority” of its 1,100 WTC workers appeared to be safe.
Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc., New York, the insurance brokerage firm, said Wednesday that 600 of its 1,700 employees were still missing.
Insurers and insurance agencies trying to learn what had happened to employees had to fight a power outage in the southern portion of Manhattan island, where the Trade Center is located; battered, overloaded telephone systems; and massive dislocation.
Insurance and reinsurance experts interviewed were too horrified to make life insurance loss estimates.
Lincoln National Corp., Philadelphia, the second largest life reinsurer in the North American market, believes its exposure as a life insurer and life reinsurer was limited, but “it’s still early,” a Lincoln spokeswoman said. “Because, who knows, nobody knows who died.”
The military personnel killed at the Pentagon had government-sponsored life insurance, but many bought additional association and individual coverage, and the civilians also had commercial coverage, experts said.
When analysts begin projecting life claims for Trade Center victims, “you’re probably talking about larger-than-average face values,” said Keith Buckley, a managing director at the Chicago office of Fitch Inc., a credit and insurance rating service.
The average insured U.S. household has about $190,000 of life coverage in force, according to the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington.
Some life insurance policies exclude coverage for deaths resulting from terrorism, but most of the exclusions apply only to acts of terrorism committed outside the United States and Canada, an ACLI spokesman said.
U.S. life insurers pay about $40 billion per year in life benefits and collect about $120 billion in life premiums, according to ACLI.
The Sept. 11 attacks could also affect annuity benefits and payments. U.S. life insurers have been making about $60 billion in annuity payments and collecting about $270 billion each year in annuity payments, according to ACLI.
The worst 20th century disaster for U.S. life insurers, the 1918 influenza pandemic, killed 550,000 U.S. residents and cost life insurers about $125 million, or 0.5% of the 1918 U.S. gross domestic product. Half a percent of the current U.S. GDP would be about $50 billion.
“Our industry is financially strong and prepared to make good on our promises to our policyholders,” ACLI said.
The life insurers that will take the biggest hits are those that wrote very large policies without exclusions for acts of terrorism, and those that wrote group life policies for employers severely affected by the attacks, experts said.
Life insurers often buy reinsurance, or insurance for insurance companies, to protect themselves against catastrophic losses.
Swiss Reinsurance Company, Zurich, the largest life reinsurer in the North American market, with a 21% market share, has estimated it might face about $700 million in attack-related life and property-casualty reinsurance exposure.
The Sept. 11 attacks also had immediate effects on the insurance industry, including widespread cancellations of work that day, and some cancellations the following day. These included the sudden, forced move of the Empire HealthCare offices and the office of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ securities valuation committee.
Empire and the NAIC securities valuation committee said they had backed up electronic correspondence but asked that some paper documents be resubmitted.
In addition, conferences were cancelled by LIMRA International, Windsor, Conn., and the Financial Planning Association, Atlanta.
Companies such as Aetna Inc., Hartford, and the Hartford Insurance Group, Hartford, announced they were making special efforts to handle attack-related claims.
Aetna pledged to pay most claims within 48 hours, and Hartford said it was organizing a catastrophe response team in Shelton, Conn.
Pharmacy benefit managers warned of possible delays for customers who get prescriptions through mail-order discount services, because of disruption to mail and package delivery services.
Employees of back-office operations and service companies with offices on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River gathered with thousands of other people to stand on the west bank of the Hudson, watching as the trade centers burned and collapsed.
Health insurers beefed up their employee assistance hotlines, and disability insurers wondered about claims that might result from factors such as smoke inhalation, or the horror of escaping from a collapsing building.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 17, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.