That’s Life

For those of a certain age (and disposition – Ed) Sunday nights will forever be defined by the antics of Esther Rantzen and the crew of That’s Life. A quasi consumer protection cum satirical light entertainment TV show that ran for over 20 years. At its heart was the hope of a better life for all via humour, parody and revue.

Life expectancy has always been at the heart of the life assurance world. It is a staple component in the calculation of insurance risk premium – but it is far from a constant. Fortunately (or otherwise) life expectancy has risen through the ages. In Europe the average person in medieval times lived to be 32. In the 1800s the figures had risen to 40 for the peasants and 51 for the nobility. The world figure in 1900 was 31; in 1950 it was 48 and in 2010 it had shot up to 67. Average figures can be misleading and it is acknowledged that much of the improvement in world averages is due to lower mortality rates of young children and more accommodative living conditions in teenage years and beyond.

In Ireland today life expectancy is 78.3 for men and 82.7 for women. Those figures are up from roughly 57 for both sexes when the figures were first recorded in 1926. Pessimists argue that these rising numbers simply lead to problems in old age – the body can’t cope – rising health costs – unproductive older people – strain on the economic model. But there is a transformative change on the way that will reverse all of this negativity and revolutionise the insurance calculations, (brave talk! – Ed).

There is a fine balance between the rising age expectancy and modern medicine. The latter simply cannot keep pace with the body’s demands as it gets older and older. But biotech offers real potential. The technology currently exists that allows for the regeneration of body tissue and organs. It is no longer science fiction. It is a proven capability. Rather than transplanting organs or grafting tissue from others it is now possible to replace aging body parts using stem cells made up of one’s own biology.

Science fiction did propose a magic pill that would reverse aging. Biotech does not provide this but it does allow for the restoration of ailing bodies. The implications are that the aging process is facilitated by a healthier body – one with new lungs or new kidneys or whatever. New, not patched-up old stuff!

This has significant implications for insurance markets and pension regulations. The State old-age-pension age is set to rise to 67 in 2012 and to 68 in 2028. Almost certainly these targets will be aggressively increased in future budgets. The whole-of-life insurance policy will also take on a new much longer-term meaning. Rapamycin; CRISPR/Cas9; geroscience and healthspan are new words for the vocabulary.

The good storyline is that the generation that is born today is likely to live reasonably healthily to well over 100. The not so good news is that anybody reading this is likely to succumb to the Grim Reaper somewhat before that. That’s life!!