For many, public health conjures up images of scientists racing against the clock to prevent the spread of infectious disease or manufacture critical supplies of vaccines. But at its core, public health is simply the people and infrastructure that work to keep us and our communities safe and healthy. So why should actuaries not simply take public health as a given? A task force of both public health professionals and actuaries has been exploring this question over the past 18 months.
A short answer, as Lisa Macon Harrison, MPH, a community health expert and member of the Society of Actuaries (SOA) public health task force, states, is that “fiscal instability threatens critical public health infrastructure in many places,”1 an issue that cries out for actuarial solutions. In her article, “Saving Money and Improving Health” Harrison offers background on her field and calls for actuaries to engage in public health. She also discusses the meaning of “margin versus mission” in her work.
Actuarial work tends to focus more on margin and less on mission. But the task force finds that understanding public health enhances actuarial practice and offers actuaries the opportunity to make a positive difference in society. This spirit of uniting margin and mission prompted task force members to comment on the Healthy People 2030 initiative,2 suggesting that its framework explicitly references the importance of cost/benefit evaluations when seeking funding for clinical and public health programs.
The task force also:
- Published several articles in Health Watch (the Health Section’s newsletter)
- Participated in updates to the Health Track’s Basic Education curriculum to include public health
- Presented at the 2016 and 2017 SOA Health Meetings
- Formed a public health subgroup that began meeting in January
The task force’s work culminated in a web-exclusive series online in conjunction with The Actuary,3 featuring several articles that tie actuarial practice and public health together. The web-exclusive articles take us through the evolution of public health and bring an actuarial perspective to several current and critical topics, including:
- Creating a culture of health in the United States (Marjorie Rosenberg, FSA, Ph.D.)
- Opioids and the national opioid crisis (Rebecca Owen, FSA, FCA, MAAA)
- Suicide (Jason McKinley, FSA)
- Dental care (Shereen Sayre, ASA, MAAA)
- Climate change and health (Mona Sarfaty, M.D., MPH, FAAFP, with a comment by the SOA’s climate committee chair, Jeff Beckley, FSA, MAAA)
- Vaccinations (Geoffrey Sandler, FSA, MAAA)
- Family planning (Kari Berglund, MSc, and Sara C. Teppema, FSA, MAAA)
- Public health systems and services (Lisa Macon Harrison, MPH)
- Community care organizations (Sudha Shenoy, FSA, CERA, MAAA, and Michelle Mickey Rork, MPA, MPP)
We encourage all actuaries to explore the web-exclusive articles and think about how public health connects to your area of practice. If you are interested in joining the subgroup and sharing ideas through monthly calls and other media, please sign up at SOA.org/News-and-Publications/Listservs/list-public-listservs.aspx.
We would like to thank the members of the task force for their efforts and passion over the past 18 months, as well as the Health Section for its support. Task force members are: Sara Teppema, FSA, MAAA, chair; Julia Lerche, FSA, MAAA, MSPH, vice-chair; Jim Mange, FSA, MAAA, publications lead; Arlene Ash, Ph.D.; Lisa Macon Harrison, MPH; Bethany McAleer, FSA, MAAA; Rebecca Owen, FSA, FCA, MAAA; Marjorie Rosenberg, FSA, Ph.D.; Geoffrey Sandler, FSA, MAAA; Shereen Sayre, ASA, MAAA; Laura Seeff, M.D.; Norm Storwick, FSA, MAAA, and Jim Toole, FSA, CERA, FCA, MAAA. Health Section council liaisons are: Greg Fann, FSA, FCA, MAAA; Jackie Lee, FSA, MAAA, and Geof Hileman, FSA, MAAA. Finally, thank you to SOA staff support: Joe Wurzburger, FSA, MAAA, and Dee Berger.
The Society of Actuaries makes no endorsement, representation or guarantee with regard to any content, and disclaims any liability in connection with the use or misuse of any information provided here or in the web-exclusive series of public health articles on www.theactuarymagazine.org. Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors and are not those of the Society of Actuaries.
- 1. Harrison, Lisa Macon. 2018. “Saving Money and Improving Health.” The Actuary. Society of Actuaries. https://www.theactuarymagazine.org/saving-money-improving-health. ↩
- 2. https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/About-Healthy-People ↩
- 3. https://www.theactuarymagazine.org/category/web-exclusives/public-health ↩