Best Actuarial Practices in Health Studies

By Rebecca Owen, FSA, MAAA, SOA Health Research Actuary

The Society of Actuaries (SOA) hosted the first Best Actuarial Practices in Health Studies Seminar in Atlanta June 17-18 following the SOA Health Meeting. This educational event focused on re-energizing actuarial research and reporting skills to support decision making at all levels. Presenters showed examples of successful actuarial studies, provided practical advice and worked with attendees to apply the advice to a case study.

The first day featured speakers’ insights of their own experiences with producing – or consuming – research, studies and reports of complicated material intended for a broad audience. The second day focused on instructional guides and breakout sessions involving case study applications. Charles Gaba discussed how he created a website to answer a personal question – the number of people enrolling in new health plans – and how that website transformed with bewildering speed into a nationally recognized source of enrollment information. was referenced by national news outlets, the White House, experts, and also many individuals who were trying to sort out information about enrollment.

The next session was comprised of panelists Dale Hall, FSA, CERA, MAAA, of the SOA, Brad Bartle, FSA, MAAA, of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota and Leslie Strassberg, FSA, MAAA, of United Health Care, all of whom have extensive experience in commissioning and consuming actuarial studies. They emphasized the need for fast, accurate, forward-thinking, targeted work, as well as the need for rigorous discipline with respect to quality and conclusions. Actuarial studies represent a formidable part of the decision making toolkit for senior management.

Eric Barrette, Ph.D. from the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI), used the annual report of cost and utilization as an exemplar of the difficulties of creating reports from data. Successful reports refine and summarize data to a level that is useful for public consumption without sacrificing nuance or muddying the message. He also reiterated the challenges of reporting health data in a public space.

Jeremy Engdahl-Johnson and Hans Leida, FSA, MAAA, Ph.D., both from Milliman, provided an overview of the challenges of creating a body of work around actuarial topics, especially in the internet age. They also discussed the ACA from the perspective of an actuary attempting to write reasoned, useful and timely reports published in a public space.

Bruce Pyenson, FSA, MAAA, from Milliman, talked about the importance of asking the right questions, to make sure you are clear about what you are doing and why you are doing it – and how to know if the work is worth the effort. Brandon Barber of Valence Health provided his specialist perspective as a data scientist working with data methods. He shared advice about all phases of a study from the initial definitions through data methods, analytics, to report/presentation rules.

Elaine Corrough, FSA, FCA, MAAA, of Axene Health Partners, emphasized that writing is improved with practice, how a disciplined approach to citations is needed and how in the end it is, to a certain extent, an art form.

During the seminar, participants worked in groups to identify the shortcomings of a sample analysis package. While the analysis of the material was intentionally deficient, the experience described by the data had potential for good analysis and participants were asked to identify areas for further study. Finally, the participants created elevator speeches proposing their studies for approval.

This health research seminar serves as an example of new ways actuaries can harness data to solve challenges impacting businesses and the public. Visit the SOA research page for more information and research.

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2 responses to "Best Actuarial Practices in Health Studies"

  • Coleen Young says:

    Sounds very interesting. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend. Will presentations, audio recordings or any other materials be available to SOA members at some point?

  • SOA Blog says:

    Materials from the Best Actuarial Practices in Health Studies Seminar were available at the event only. 2015 SOA Health Meeting materials will be posted on

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