Life Insurance Claims for Spanish Influenza Victims in the United States Topped $70 Million in Today’s Dollars, So How Much Would It Cost Today?

In January 1919, the Mutual Life Insurance Company reported paying out $69,651,430 in life insurance claims in 1918. That sum included $4,780,200 to victims of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. That was 6.8% of all payouts due to the pandemic. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $70.8 million in today’s dollars.

That is just what one life insurance company paid out. There were probably millions of dollars more lost in productivity and paid out by other kids of insurance, as well as the unquantifiable cost of human lives lost. In a study led by the University of Southern California, the cost of a major epidemic of influenza could cost the United States upwards of $45 billion dollars in gross domestic product, and the authors noted some interesting differences if vaccination recommendations were not followed:

“Scientists also estimated economic losses for two other scenarios during a typical flu season — one in which Americans were vaccinated and one in which they weren’t. Taking into account resilience and avoidance behaviors, the scientists estimated that a flu season normally results in a loss of $7 billion if Americans vaccinate, compared with $9 billion if they do not vaccinate.

The differences in costs reveal problems that could be targeted by policymakers to minimize losses.

“Attempting to influence avoidance behavior through public messaging and information campaigns, so-called ‘nudges’ and other incentives may hold the potential for greatly reducing the economic costs of an influenza outbreak at a relatively low cost,” the scientists wrote.”

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen