Arthritis can be a relentless enemy.
Some conditions that cause joint inflammation, such as lupus, may kill people quickly. In many other cases, a condition that starts out as a nuisance gradually takes over people’s lives, limiting their ability to handle the activities of daily living.
Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Unum Group has estimated that joint disorders cause 7.2 percent of its short-term disability insurance claims and 9.2 percent of its long-term disability insurance claims.
The Westlake Village, California-based American Association for Long Term Care Association says arthritis is the main cause of about 9 percent of long-term care insurance claims.
For insurance professionals, arthritis has two faces: in some cases, it can make getting clients the most helpful health-related insurance products difficult or impossible. In other cases, it can make clients keenly aware of health and disability risk without doing much to hurt their insurability. Closing a sale might be as simple as telling the client, “The underwriters approved your application.”
The effects of arthritis on underwriting and sales vary dramatically from condition to condition and from client to client.
Gout, for example, is a form of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid in the blood. It may have no effect on some people’s lifespan, but researchers in Japan reported in 2000 that it seemed to correlate with a 60 percent increase in the risk of dying in any given year.
Complications of rheumatoid arthritis, or joint inflammation caused by a wide variety of conditions, might cut some people’s lifespans by about 10 to 15 years, but it has no effects on others’ lifespans. Many people with the condition live into their 80s and 90s, according to the Atlanta-based Arthritis Foundation.
Osteoarthritis, or joint inflammation caused by some combination of cartilage problems, over-use of a joint, and ordinary wear and tear, may have no effect on life expectancy at all.
One New York-based insurer says in a Web-based field underwriting manual that otherwise healthy people with mild osteoarthritis may be able to qualify for individual disability insurance at standard rates and typically can qualify for life insurance at preferred rates. People with mild rheumatoid arthritis may be able to qualify for life insurance at standard rates and individual disability insurance at substandard rates.
When insurers write about how they think about the boundary between mild arthritis and moderate or severe arthritis, they typically mention warning signs such as use of narcotic drugs to control pain or recent joint surgery. They also talk about whether arthritic conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis have caused many of a client’s joints to fuse together.
This is a good month for insurance professionals who are interested in learning more about people with arthritis and arthritis risk, because many local Arthritis Foundation chapters host Bone Bash Halloween fundraisers this month. Getting to know people with arthritis may be as easy as attending a masquerade ball.
For insurance professionals, one twist is that the prevalence of arthritis seems to vary widely from market to market.
In 2014, for example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 27 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 and older had arthritis, according to a CDC survey database.
At the state level, however, prevalence ranged from less than 20 percent in Minnesota to more than 35 percent in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.
To try to filter out some local variation that may be based on diagnostic practices or historic demographic factors, we looked at how the reported arthritis prevalence rate changes between 2009 and 2014.
The rate fell in 38 states and the District of Columbia. The median change was a decrease of about 1.6 percentage points
But the rate increased a bit in Idaho and Virginia, and more in 10 other states. For a look at the 10 states with the biggest increases, read on:
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that can affect the whole body. (Photo: iStock)
5 bad states for arthritis
In most states, the prevalence of arthritis among adults ages 45 to 54 — the adults who may be the most likely to have the cash and life experience to understand the importance of long-term disability insurance, long-term care insurance and other disability-related products and services — declined between 2009 and 2014.
In these states, which rank fifth through 10th in terms of arthritis prevalence in the 45-54 age group, the percentage of people touched by arthritis actually increased.
2009 prevalence: 33 percent.
2014 Prevalence: 33.9 percent.
Prevalence change: 0.9 percentage points.
2009 prevalence: 35.8 percent.
2014 Prevalence: 36.8 percent.
Prevalence change: 1 percentage point.
2009 prevalence: 32.3 percent.
2014 Prevalence: 33.3 percent.
Prevalence change: 1 percentage point
2009 prevalence: 26.4 percent.
2014 Prevalence: 27.5 percent.