Life insurance observers are trying to get a little more methodical at estimating how much the Tohoku earthquakes and resulting tsunamis might cost life and health insurers.

Japanese officials have confirmed that more than 3,600 people have died as a result of the devastating Great Tohoku Earthquake that hit Northeastern Japan Friday, the many other earthquakes with a magnitude of 5.0 or greater that have struck since the first earthquake, and the tsunamis caused by the earthquakes. More than 7,500 people are still missing, and many of the survivors inadequate food, water and shelter.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tokyo, has been trying to get nuclear reactors in Fukushima under control. Japanese authorities have advised people who live within 20 kilometers of the reactors to evacuate and residents who live 20 to 30 kilometers from the plant to stay inside when they can, avoid contact with rain or snow, and dust themselves off carefully before returning home when they must go outside.

In Kitaibaraki City, a community in the Ibaraki prefecture, residents have been getting about 5 micrograys of radiation (or 5 millionths of a gray) per hour. according to prefectural officials. That exposure is equivalent to getting a chest X-ray every 10 hours. Mild radiation poisoning can occur if someone absorbs 0.3 grays of radiation in a short period.

Japan Credit Rating Agency Ltd., says in a comment on the crisis that it will need time to assess how well life company’s risk management programs held up. Earthquake-related drops in stock prices have reduced the companies’ unrealized gains on equity investments, and that could impose some constraints, the agency says.

John Nadel and Dennis Zavolock, analysts in the New York office of Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc., have tried to dig into Japanese market reports and insurance company filings to gather basic Japanese life market data.

The 130 million residents of Japan have an average of about $135,000 in life coverage per person, and life insurers pay about $100 billion in death benefits per year, or $77,000 for each of the 1.3 mi1llion residents of Japan who die in a typical year, according to the Japanese government.

About 80% of Japanese residents have life insurance, 70% have medical insurance, and 30% have cancer insurance, Nadel and Zavolock report.

At one U.S. publicly traded company with a significant presence in Japan, every 125 death claims received would cost about 1 cent per share, and every 4,000 medical claims might cost about 1 cent per share, the Sterne Agee analysts estimate.

In other news from Japan:

  • The members of the Life Insurance Association of Japan, Tokyo, including Japanese units of North American life insurers, say plan to waive earthquake and tsunami policy provisions that normally would reduce or eliminate death benefits or accidental death benefits and pay claims in
    full. Insurers also are offering premium payment grace periods of up to 6 months for customers affected by the disasters and are promising to pay claims and issue policy loans with a minimum of red tape, even if the insureds have lost the inkan identification seals commonly used in Japan or the documents that would normally be needed to complete the transactions. Several large insurers say they will suspend collection of interest on loans made to disaster victims.
  • A group of Life Insurance Association of Japan member companies has donated a total of $3.8 million to relief efforts.
  • Manulife Financial Corp., Toronto, says it has confirmed the safety of all employees and agents in Japan. All company systems in the country are functioning, the company says. Manulife has committed to donating a minimum of $1 million to relief efforts through direct donations and matches of employee donations.
  • Prudential Life Insurance Company Ltd., Tokyo, a unit of Prudential Financial Inc., Newark, N.J. (NYSE:PRU), and other Prudential businesses in Japan said a call center in Northeastern Japan was knocked out from when the earthquake until Sunday morning. AIG Star Edison Life Insurance Company, which is now a Prudential unit, announced the closure of a number offices in communities affected by the earthquake Monday, and announced the closure of an additional office in Fukushima today. Prudential has donated the equivalent of $6.1 million to the relief effort.
  • AXA Japan, a unit of AXA S.A., Paris, noted that it has had no report of any of its 8,000 employees in Japan being injured by the disasters, but that it is still trying to reach 54 employees who are in the most heavily affected areas. AXA has started by donating the equivalent of about $750,000 to relief efforts and has committed to arrange for at least $1 million in additional donations.
  • Japan Post Insurance Company Ltd., Tokyo, says some of its facilities are operating as shelters, one is providing cots, blankets and a telephone charging station. The company is donated the equivalent of about $1.2 million to disaster relief efforts.
  • Utility companies are using temporary power cuts to save electricity. The Japanese arm of ALICO, a unit of MetLife Inc., New York (NYSE:MET), notes that callers may have some problems reaching its call centers due to the rolling blackouts in the Kanto region.

Other earthquake coverage from National Underwriter Life & Health:

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CORRECTION: Prudential’s contribution for disaster relief efforts was described incorrectly in an earlier version of this article. The correct amount is about $6.1 million.