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How do we build back better from Covid-19?

Richard Purcell summarises the discussions at the recent Health & Care board meeting.

Build Back Better is a slogan that we’ve heard a few times from politicians and others in recent weeks and months in respect of how we recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been some argument over whether it was Boris or Biden that coined it first, but that’s not really important. At the heart of the message is that the current crisis has uncovered lots of issues in society, and as we rebuild, it presents an opportunity to put right some of those wrongs. They broadly include; building our resilience to future pandemics (partly by ensuring health and social care services are properly resourced), mending inequalities in our society, and tackling the climate and environmental emergency upon us.

What has this got to do with the Health and Care Board? Well, it turns out building back better is something that emerged as a theme in our most recent board meeting on 17 February.

First there is learning from Covid-19 and how we can build resilience to future pandemics. On this front we had an update from Dave Grimshaw of the CMI on their work. Despite the challenges of getting data, the CMI have successfully started releasing insights into the impact of the early stages of the pandemic on insurers.

We heard from Vicky Gardner (Chair of the Health and Care Research Sub-committee) on some of the other areas of research which have become more topical because of the pandemic. One is increasing awareness of mental health, and for which a new working party is being established, (hear more about this working party at the “Supporting Mental Health in a Virtual Workplace” webinar on 3 March – 150 registrations in the first couple of days of being open). Another theme is automation and AI, which has certainly accelerated during the pandemic. Here the AI and Automation working party (a cross-practice initiative with the Life Board) produced a paper on short term outputs at the end of January.

When it comes to learning about the impact of the pandemic more widely as a profession, we heard from Graham Lee, Chair of the Health and Care Lifelong Learning Sub-committee, on their plans to have a monthly programme of health and care related webinars to replace our usual programme of face to face events. This was welcomed by the board. To help showcase the wider work by the profession on Covid-19 we also discussed plans for an upcoming fortnight of events Actuarial Innovation in the Covid-19 Era from 26 April to 7 May which will feature some of the work done by the health and care ICAT work streams.

Another strand of activity has been responding to the UK governments new health and social care white paper. This white paper failed to set out a social care strategy, but we are hopeful more will emerge from the government on this important topic and we have created a social care working party ready in anticipation of reviewing any new details.

The second theme of building back better is mending inequality. On this we noted risk pooling is an increasingly important topic. Specifically, the emergence of more data sources is leading to more accurate pricing of risk, but at the same time creating smaller pools of risk. This could undermine the cross-subsidisation effects of insurance, and ultimately reduce access to insurance for some segments of society and therefore exacerbate inequality. The board recognises this as an important issue and is keen to encourage more debate on it. An upcoming IFoA policy paper on the poverty premium will touch on this theme, but we also plan to explore an event on risk pooling.

Finally, no discussion on building back better would be complete without touching on climate change. As actuaries we need to consider how climate change could impact our work, and it feels as though we are at the early stages of understanding this as a profession. Working with the Sustainability board, a sub-group of our board are forming an engagement plan for the Health and Care practice. We have also formed a working party to review what additional information may be helpful specifically to actuaries working in the health, care and protection areas. While we work on all this, we would encourage all members to take an action too, and start considering the impact of climate change on their work by taking a look at the climate change reading list.

We are due to meet again on 22 April and as ever we would welcome comments or views from all our members.