Deaths from respiratory disease down 15% in Australia

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By Michael Coles

While many people have a negative sentiment when it comes to insurance firms, mainly because all insurance is a ‘grudge purchase’, you have to listen to the clever people who help set the premiums and define the risk. These people are called actuaries.

They don’t set the room alight when they walk in, they can bore people silly at parties, and live in a world far away from where we mere mortals sit.

They live in a black and white world of facts, figures and finance. Emotion doesn’t cut any ice. They look at the cold hard facts, determine the risk and put a price on it for insurance retailers.

These people are forever seeking solid data on everything so they can make the correct bet when it comes things such as to car insurance, property insurance, and event insurance.

Have you ever seen those contests where people are invited to guess how many jellybean sweets are in a huge jar – guess the correct number and you win a car? An actuary likely worked out the chances of you getting it right so the contest organiser can insure themselves for the price of the car.

So you get it? Actuaries are brilliantly clever people.

With that point made, isn’t it interesting that the Australian Actuaries Institute issued two press releases last year saying the number of deaths in 2020 and 2021 were no higher than before the ‘pandemic’? They need to know this stuff because they help set life insurance premiums.

In November 2021 the institute issued a press release stating:

• Deaths from respiratory disease were down 28% in the month of August 2021.
• There were 79 doctor-certified covid-19 deaths during August
• Deaths from all other causes were close-to-expected.
• In the 8 months to August 31, respiratory deaths were down 15% but deaths from other causes were higher.

See also its June 2021 press release – fewer deaths than expected in 2020.

The institute says Australia continued to see significantly lower deaths from flu and other respiratory illnesses in the month of August 2021, a trend that began with the covid-19 pandemic.

Actuaries Institute analysis of the latest ABS data, for the month of August 2021, shows a fall of 28% in the number of deaths from all respiratory diseases and a fall of 15% over the year.

The modelling also shows that in the three months to August 2021, respiratory deaths were not as low as for the same period in 2020.

The Actuaries Institute modelling is based on monthly ABS data for doctor-certified deaths. It excludes about 10% of deaths, which are certified by the coroner.

The model measures actual deaths against predicted deaths, adjusted as the population ages and grows, and allowing for trends in mortality improvement. These adjustments are important because a simple comparison with historical averages can be misleading, said Jennifer Lang, Convenor of the Australian Actuaries Institute’s COVID-19 Working Group.

The Actuaries’ analysis shows around 1,300 deaths in August from all respiratory disease, 28% (500 deaths) lower than the expected number of around 1,800.

Over the year to August 31, there have been 8,700 respiratory deaths. This is 15% lower than the 10,200 predicted deaths from all respiratory disease.

The actuarial model predicts August as the month with the highest number of deaths for the calendar year. However, in August 2021, deaths from all forms of respiratory disease are showing very little to no seasonal increase.

There were 79 doctor-certified deaths in August from covid-19. This compares to 82 officially recorded covid-19 deaths in the month, suggesting that three deaths were referred to the coroner.

Deaths from heart disease were higher-than-expected in August (up 4% at 1,270 deaths), noting that the predicted values allow for continued strong mortality improvement in this cause.

Deaths from dementia were significantly lower-than-expected in August, (down 8%, 1,450 deaths), possibly related to lower than usual levels of respiratory disease in the community.

Deaths from other causes, i.e. those not explicitly reported on by the ABS, were again higher than expected (up 3%). In the year to date, there have been 1,400 more deaths than predicted from ‘other causes’. The ABS has a program of work underway to investigate the reasons for this increase, Lang said.

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