Now Reading: Addressing Climate Change among Insurers, some are doing more than others

When I asked about the phenomenon of climate change and if the impact on our health was real, a wise person once said to me, “look at insurance companies.” Meaning, look at the industry whose role in society is to understand risk.

This report put out by Ceres (@ceresnews), a nonprofit organization advocating for sustainability leadership, capitalized, or should I say, leveraged, a movement by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, to mandate disclosure of climate change related risks by insurers. This culminated in 3 states (California, Washington, and New York) mandating disclosure of any insurer writing more than $300 million in premiums, which effectively captured the entire insurance market.

This is a report of the analysis of the disclosures of 184 companies, spanning the insurance spectrum, including health insurance. So that’s why a doctor is reading this report.

That and the fact that it validates that I do work in a health system that is paying more attention to this issue than most. 

The news is overall not very good. On the one hand, there is confirmation that insurance companies are paying attention to climate change and it is affecting their behavior, in terms of what they invest in, where they write (or don’t write policies), and how they are planning for catastrophes in areas where they operate. Of note, there appears to be the most effort underway with regard to hurricane prediction and loss modeling there. In other words, this is seen as a real threat.

On the other hand, there are well-known, highly visible insurance brands quoted who appear to either not be preparing for climate change, don’t feel it is a concern, or are adopting a wait and see type attitude with regard to future claims and viability of their organizations.  

There’s a whole section on health insurers, and as with the other sectors, there’s variability. Kaiser Permanente is called out specifically:

Especially within Health and L&A, but even among some P&C insurers, many companies view climate change as an environmental issue immaterial to their business. Only one health insurer, Kaiser Permanente, has a strong climate position. With the exception of Prudential Financial, virtually all L&A firms have little or no focus on climate change.


“If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, climate change will cause health effects that will directly impact Kaiser Permanente’s ability to fulfill its promise of quality, affordable care,” 


Only one example of innovation was found: “The Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment, and Health (RPEGH) was launched in 2005, with the goal of building the largest and most comprehensive resource in the United States for research on the influence of both inherited and environmental factors on people’s health.

To Heal, You Have to Not Harm – Validated Green House Gas inventory, Kaiser Permanente (click to enlarge)

Read more about the report here: Kaiser Permanente Leads Insurers in Addressing Climate Change: Report | Kaiser Permanente News Center

I think this is a fascinating window on industry in general, in terms of which specific organizations are aligning themselves with health and in the reduction of health inequalities through addressing this social determinant of health.


Ted Eytan, MD