Ordinary life insurance policyholders who have reached age 90 and over surely are the insurance industry’s heroes. Think of their loyalty and persistency. This article is about them.

They are an amazing and unique group.

I have thoroughly searched the Bragg Associates database to find every insured who reached 90 or over between 1989 and 2003. In all, this search turned up 56,152 policy-years exposed, at ages 90 and over. Of these, 640 were at ages 100 or over!

The accompanying chart shows the survival pattern for these insurance heroes. Here are some related observations:

o One-year survival probabilities are always surprisingly high. (The odds are far better than 50-50!)

o Male and female survival probabilities seem to become equal at very high ages.

o As expected, survival rates do decline by age. But only until age 96; after that, the survival rates seem to become level, or may even improve. This is a surprising finding, but the search results do show it. This raises the question: Is this the survival of the fittest of the fittest?

o At ages 101 and up, the one-year survival rate seems incredibly high (86%): There were 301 survivors from 350 exposed.

o Not shown in the chart: 11 lives reached age 105. Three of the 11 died in that year, so 8 lives (73%) reached age 106. We don’t know what happened to them after that.

The chart also shows the percentage of people who do not need assisted living. (As readers may already know, the triggers for going into assisted living are: the person has Alzheimer’s disease or cannot perform 2 or more activities of daily living–i.e., bathing, dressing, toilet use, transferring to bed and chair, eating, and continence.)

Actuaries who are developing the science of health expectancy say informally that such people are in “The Immortal Group.”

No doubt, just about everyone age 90 and up hopes to reach and stay in the Immortal Group. If illness strikes, they hope to “recover” back into the Immortal Group–and recovery often happens. Consider:

Very senior people who are in “the Immortal Group” often have typical old-age impairments such as arthritis, hearing and eyesight problems, etc. But they have reached age 90 by staying in the Immortal Group all along. They still contribute, they do not have immediate life-threatening disabilities, and they do not need assisted living. They are in charge of their own destinies. They have a reason to recover.

Think about what American ordinary life policyholders who have reached age 90+ have seen and experienced. Two world wars, an economic depression and a cold war. Wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic (1927). The bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941). The Kennedy assassination (1963). The terrorist attacks on 9/11 (2001). Radio, television and the Internet. Think also of the lifelong contributions made by these individuals.

They deserve the insurance industry’s best in service and products. They deserve to be the industry’s annuitants. They need the industry’s “secondary guarantees” and long term care products. (Naturally, the industry needs to find a profitable way to make suitable products in these areas available at the older ages.) Whether wealthy or not, they need access to many of the tools the industry now has available.

That the industry is seriously looking at responsible ways of writing life insurance at the older ages is definitely a step in the right direction. Issuing coverage at age 90 or more might strike some industry professionals as just plain foolish. But consider what you already know about today’s increasing longevity trends and then look once again at the chart. Foolish might only be in the eye of the beholder.