Covid-19 accounted for 60% of the value of death claims in 2021, says Discovery Life

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  • Covid was the main cause of death since 2012, according to claims data from Discovery Life.
  • This was followed by cancer.
  • The insurer has also seen an increase in suicide-related claims.

Covid-19 was the single highest cause of death in any given year since 2012, data from Discovery Life has revealed.

According to the insurer, the disease accounted for 60% of the value of death claims in 2021.

Gareth Friedlander, deputy chief executive officer at Discovery Life, highlighted the impact of Covid across all age groups: “I think what’s really interesting here is the common feeling that the number of [Covid] deaths is much higher in the older ages, but as a relative proportion, you can see that that’s no longer the case … Covid impacted every single age group,” he said during a webinar.

Global research also indicates that millions of children have become orphaned or lost their primary caregiver to Covid, and this impact was seen in claims from Discovery Life – over R4.5 million was paid in 2021 alone to cover the education costs of affected children. 

ICU claims

In 2021, 80% of all intensive care unit (ICU) benefit payments were related to Covid, said Dr Maritha van der Walt, Discovery Life’s chief medical officer.

“We know that Covid was first seen as a respiratory condition – which is so in the majority of cases – but it also attacks the heart and brain and so on," she said, adding that "the ICU benefit was the common denominator because it could be that someone’s lungs were affected, but also their heart and kidneys, and so on”.


Van der Walt explained that while Covid was the number one cause of death in males and females, and across all age groups: “If we strip out the Covid claims, for women, cancer and breast cancer are definitely in the number one position for cancer deaths.”

The insurer said that cancer has become the leading cause of severe illness in both men and women. For the first time in years, cancer has dominated even under male claims, said Kashmeera Kanji, the insurer’s head of market analytics and R&D.

Last month, Momentum Retail Life Insurance said that Covid was the cause of 42% of their death claims in 2021, which was followed by cardiovascular claims at 20% and cancer at 17% of total claims. Their data suggested that Covid affected men and women almost equally as the main cause of death in 2021. 


Last year, Discovery Life’s suicide claims went up about 18% year on year, Friedlander said.

He commented: “But if you extrapolate the trend over a longer period, we’ve seen that in the last four years, we’ve had a 25% increase in suicides relative to the four years prior to that. So we’ve paid over R400 million for clients under mental and behavioural conditions including suicide.”

Friedlander added that no age group was immune to suicide: “You can see quite an even split across ages of our suicide claims,” he said.

Momentum’s 2021 claim statistics show that their largest death claim of R86.4m was paid out for a 54-year-old man who had committed suicide. This served as a reminder of the immense pressure many people are under and the unfortunate consequences a suicide can have for families, said the head of product development at Momentum Life Insurance, Jenny Ingram.


According to van Reenen, 82% of all Discovery Life clients who are at high risk for severe Covid (people aged 60 years and older) have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, compared to the national rate of 32%. 

The insurer has not received any claims as a result of a vaccination side effect.

“We’ve only had one recorded death from Covid-19 by a fully vaccinated Golden and Diamond Vitality member on Discovery Life,” said van Reenen.

Long Covid

Millions of people who have had Covid are now living with lingering symptoms, known as long Covid-19.

Kanji said that long Covid has been under discussion across various groups, and that the insurer has had some time to start thinking about what this could mean in the future.

Van der Walt also commented: “For severe illness claims, we saw the ICU benefit was the most prevalent claim. But it is so that we are starting to see objective medical impairments, for example, kidney or heart impairments, or neurological impairments that would meet criteria on the normal severe illness benefit.

“On the permanent disability side, if somebody is in the unfortunate position that they cannot perform their duties on a permanent [basis], or they meet the independent medical criteria for example chart of kidney impairment, we would assess it under those benefits as well.”

READ | Modern-day oracles? Meet the scientists tracking Covid’s crappy future

READ | Unvaccinated South Africans told us why they weren’t interested in having Covid-19 jabs

READ | Three doses of the same Covid-19 jab, mixed jabs work equally well against infection

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