Insurers and super funds must remain on the front foot to support members ahead of a looming mental and chronic health crisis, industry leaders told Investment Magazine’s Group Insurance Summit on Tuesday.

TAL health services general manager Sally Phillips warned of the pandemic’s third wave, unrelated to Covid-19, but focused on chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and other health issues, currently being ignored or going untreated.

“What we’re not talking about is the third wave which the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners is starting to vocalise,’’ Phillips told the panel discussion The Coronavirus Effect: the impact on life and what we have learnt.

Australians were delaying preventative screening tests, alongside delays in elective surgeries, which may impact on mortality or change claims notifications for the industry, she said.

Coupled with this were longer term impacts of the virus such as chronic fatigue.

But Phillips and Lance Schembri, First State Super Victorian state manager for growth and business development, said it was vital for super funds to proactively support members ahead of an expected wave of mental health claims.

“Concerns for us as insurers are mental health and conditions,” Phillips said.

At risk were Australian super members with existing mental health conditions dealing with altered arrangements such as telehealth treatments, those with symptoms which may have them exacerbated by job loss, financial and family stress in lockdown and healthy people potentially facing financial issues and other stresses.

“As an industry we need to look at these three groups and strategies around that,’’ she said.

First State Super, Australia’s largest super fund for the healthcare sector, was giving its members certainty around super accounts, help with wills and estate planning and supporting their wellbeing, Schembri said.

“As a super fund, our role is to make sure our members know we are here to support them,’’ he said.

“Our members have not only been dealing with Covid-19 for the last five months but there were bushfires before that. They’re working extraordinary hours, are mentally and physically fatigued and pretty much running on adrenaline,’’ he said.

Add to this loss of work for their partners, children being home schooled and other financial pressures, “a mental health challenge is coming up post Covid” for the fund’s members, he said.

A poll of conference participants showed 88 per cent expected mental health disability claims to rise as a result of Covid-19.

Meanwhile Swiss Re emerging risks research lead Stephen Kramer said vaccines were the only road to herd immunity as initial studies showed only a partial and fleeting natural immunity to those who had contracted the disease.

The epidemiologist, who worked with reinsurers with the HIV health crisis in Africa, told the panel discussion that the world needed to achieve herd immunity to the Covid-19 infection but he was hopeful a vaccine would be developed.

“Given that there are over 30 different projects developing vaccines and a variety of them use different techniques, I believe we will find a vaccine. In fact I think we’ll find a couple of vaccines and they will separately produce meet the needs of the world in a relatively short time,’’ he said.

He said health professionals were improving on treatments such as the use of anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting agents to improve the outcomes for patients as the pandemic continued.

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