The Unusual Suspects: Death Rates Skyrocket in Indiana and Insurers Are Worried – and Mystified

The Unusual Suspects: Death Rates Skyrocket in Indiana and Insurers Are Worried – and Mystified

I’ve never cared much for the state of Indiana and right now, someone out there in Flatland is spreading disquieting news around the life insurance industry.

As a blue-collar snob from Massachusetts, the lack of respectable sports franchises – by definition, Boston alone hosts them – or proper fried clams (hardly possible – they don’t even have a seacoast!) guides my jaundiced eye over the land of interminable cornfields. I see little good to report in that state.

OK, there’s a few stellar barbecue joints down in Lafayette – some superb old friends of mine hail from there, attended the university. The state did provide Boston with Larry Bird, and we won’t forget it, merry old Hoosiers. Why, one of my closest compadres, Rebecca, my editor, was born there, in Washington, Indie-anner, as she drawls it.

Washington, IN – oh, my. I visited once – just that one time. The whole ride into that most isolated of whistle stops was enlivened, if that’s the right word for an experience so noxious, with dreadful odors of animal excretion.

“Turkeys!” – Rebecca exclaimed at one particularly bad whiff. “Pigs!” – oof, simply awful. Farm-raised ducks, set for who-can-say-who’s aristocratic table, well, you don’t want to know, but if ’n you’re curious, Rebecca’s nose, knows.

Rebecca has the biggest collection of Hermes scarves in upstate New York. She has more fancy shoes than Beyonce. She treats foie gras like cornflakes – that figures – yet she’s never so happy as when regaling a table about how she used to pull stumps with a miniature tractor, with Farmer Dad looking on.

When I enrage Rebecca, she’s likely to ejaculate (if you follow me) a stout Midwestern, “Now, you see here!” – or “Git that idea right outta yur head!” She’s so elegant, picking the cornsilk from her stylish brown hair, and for such a snob – the downtown Manhattan variety – Rebecca’s not one jot ashamed to admit a passion for corndogs.

Well, I can’t stand them, those folks. The true problem is this: back in my youth, Indiana was the last leg of the drive from Washington DC to graduate school in mid-state Illinois. I was invariably exhausted by then, and those deadening cornfields – tens and hundreds of miles they ran, inducing the drooping of eyelids, then simple sadness and soon, utter New England annoyance.

Culture clash, pure and simple. Stopping for gas in Brownsburg (hmm), I hit the convenience store for a Coke. The hayseed clerk queried, “You want that pop in a sack?” Why would I put my old man… it took few seconds to savvy, then I nearly karate-chopped the poor hick. I admit, when we Northerners work up a steam, we’re near insufferable.

We give Midwesterners a bad rap, I admit. If you’ve been to Minnesota, the home of my transplanted brother, you’ll know that everyone there’s seen the film ‘Fargo’, and to this day, they resent their portrayal as bumpkins. This is because, despite the tall tales of conceited Hollywood propagandists, they ain’t.

Bright, educated and cultured people, they love to engage outsiders in true conversation, no chit-chat – they are sincerely interested in other folk’s lives. Come to Massachusetts and all you’ll hear is a bark: “You want chowder to start? Whadda you mean, ‘no’, you cheap so-and-so?”

Let’s get to the news, finally – that was one long drive. Scott Davison, CEO of Indiana-based insurer OneAmerica, told a news conference that state death rates are currently the highest “in the history of the business.” In Indiana, in the third quarter of last year, deaths rose by 40% in the actuarially invulnerable 18-64 age bracket versus the pre-pandemic rate.

Mr. Davison called these “huge, huge numbers.” The trend appeared to continue into 4Q21, although the final results won’t be known for several more weeks.

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s on my mind, too. Who wouldn’t assume it? Yet I wager, you don’t want to say it.

There was a joke, so-called, in the Soviet Union:

Boris: What should we do in the event of a nuclear war?
Natasha: Shroud yourself in a white bedsheet and creep backwards, slowly, into a cemetery.
Boris: Why backwards, and slowly?
Natasha: So as not to cause a panic.

With the pandemic winding down – if only in my dreams – I dread even uttering its name. Yet with these reports out of Indianapolis, it is near unavoidable. The coronavirus appears to be killing the healthiest people in America now – young, hearty Midwesterners.

I certainly won’t append ‘luckily’ to my next statement, yet here it is, plain: that’s not really what’s happening. It isn’t the ‘rona, per se.

What’s causing the downfall of our halest citizens? At this moment, no one is sure. Yet here is a clue: Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association, reports that statewide, hospitals are nearly full of patients suffering from many conditions. Coronavirus accounts for 37% of those occupying ICU beds – a minority, and a drop on 2020 statistics.

Mr. Tabor: “Unfortunately, the average Hoosiers’ health has declined during the pandemic.”

No fishing or boating or cross-country skiing. Worry and isolation; no family at holidays. Weddings and travel, first communions and anniversaries, all put off until who can say when. The cost on our compatriots’ health was quite real – just as we long feared.

The coronavirus panic is nearly over, if I can judge by the disgusted faces I see when new restrictions are announced. The days of masks and isolation are surely approaching their final end, amen.

Yet keep it in mind: the damage will persist and take some doing to repair. In our own simple lives, closer attention to health, exercise and happy activity – there’s our start on the process.

The life insurance agents have a few things to ponder, too. Pre-pandemic, there was already a trend toward what I’d call pan-life protection. This involves providing clients with ‘wellness’ resources to help them live longer, healthier lives. The Indiana events suggest the correctness of this policy, and perhaps an audience more ready than ever to welcome the effort, and listen.

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