Frank M. Svoboda
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Globe Life
Thanks, Gary. First, I want to spend a few minutes discussing our share repurchase program, available liquidity and capital position. The parent began the year with liquid assets of $119 million. In addition of these liquid assets, the parent company will generate excess cash flows in 2022. The parent company's excess cash flow, as we define it, results primarily from the dividends received by the parent from its subsidiaries, less the interest paid on parent company debt.
During 2022, we anticipate the parent will generate $350 million to $370 million of excess cash flows. This amount of excess cash flows, which again is before the payment of dividends to shareholders, is lower than the $450 million received in 2021, primarily due to higher COVID life losses and the nearly 15% growth in our exclusive agency sales in 2021, both of which result in lower statutory income in 2021 and thus lower cash flows to the parent in 2022 than we received in 2021.
Obviously, while an increase in sales creates a drag to the parent's cash flows in the short-term, the higher sales will result in higher operating cash flows in the future. Including the excess cash flows and the $119 million of assets on hand at the beginning of the year, we currently expect to have around $470 million to $490 million of assets available to the parent during the year, out of which we anticipate distributing a little over $80 million to our shareholders in the form of dividend payments.
In the first quarter, the company repurchased 880,000 shares of Globe Life, Inc. common stock at a total cost of $88.6 million and at an average share price of $100.70. Year-to-date, we have repurchased 1,097,000 shares for approximately $110 million at an average price of $100.76. We also made a $10 million capital contribution to our insurance subsidiaries during the first quarter. After these payments, we anticipate the parent will have $270 million to $290 million of assets available for the remainder of the year.
As noted on previous calls, we will use our cash as efficiently as possible. We still believe that share repurchases provide the best return or yield to our shareholders over other available alternatives. Thus, we anticipate share repurchases will continue to be a primary use of the parent's excess cash flows, along with the payment of shareholder dividends. It should be noted that the cash received by the parent company from our insurance operations is after our subsidiaries have made substantial investments during the year to issue new insurance policies, expand and modernize our information technology and other operational capabilities and acquire new long duration assets to fund the future cash needs.
As discussed on prior calls, we have historically targeted $50 million to $60 million of liquid assets to be held at the parent. We will continue to evaluate the potential impact of the pandemic on our capital needs. And should there be excess liquidity, we anticipate the company will return such excess to the shareholders in 2022. In our earnings guidance, we anticipate between $400 million and $410 million will be returned to shareholders in 2022, including approximately $320 million to $330 million through share repurchases.
Now with regard to our capital level that at our insurance subsidiaries. Our goal is to maintain our capital levels necessary to support our current ratings. Globe Life targets a consolidated company action level RBC ratio in the range of 300% to 320%. For 2021, our consolidated RBC ratio was 315%. At this RBC ratio, our subsidiaries have approximately $85 million of capital over the amount required at the low end of our consolidated RBC target of 300%.
At this time, I'd like to provide a few comments related to the impact of COVID-19 on first quarter results. In the first quarter, the company incurred approximately $46 million of COVID life claims, equal to 6.1% of our life premium. The claims incurred in the quarter were approximately $17 million higher than anticipated due to higher levels of COVID deaths than expected, partially offset by lower average cost per 10,000 US deaths.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reported that approximately 155,000 US deaths occurred due to COVID in the first quarter, the highest quarter of COVID deaths in the US since the first quarter of 2021. This was substantially higher than the 85,000 deaths we anticipated based on projections from the IHME. At the time of our last call, we utilized IMHE's projection of 65,000 first quarter US deaths and added a provision for higher deaths in January, as reported by the CDC but that were not reflected in IHME's projection.
IHME's projection anticipated a significant drop off in deaths starting in mid-February. Obviously, the decline in death did not occur as quickly as anticipated, especially during the latter half of the quarter. With respect to our average cost per 10,000 US deaths based on data we currently have available, we estimate COVID losses on deaths in the first quarter were at the rate of $3 million per 10,000 US deaths, which is at the low end of the range previously provided. This reflects an increase in the average age of COVID deaths and a decrease in the percentage of those deaths occurring in the South [Phonetic].
The first quarter COVID life claims include approximately $25 million in claims incurred in our Direct-to-Consumer division or 10% of its first quarter premium income, approximately $4 million at Liberty National or 5.5% of its premium for the quarter and approximately $15 million at American Income or 4% of its first quarter premium. We continue to experience relatively low levels of COVID claims on policies sold since the start of the pandemic. Approximately two-thirds of COVID claim counts come from policies issued more than 10 years ago. For business issued since March of 2020, we paid 624 COVID life claims with a total amount paid of $9.3 million. The 624 policies with COVID claims comprised only 0.01% of the approximately 4 million policies issued by Globe Life during that time. These levels are not out of line with our expectations.
As noted on past calls, in addition to COVID losses, we continue to experience higher life policy obligations from lower policy lapses and non-COVID causes of death. The increase from non-COVID causes of death are primarily medical related, including deaths due to lung ailments, heart and circulatory issues and neurological disorders. The losses we are seeing continue to be elevated over 2019 levels due at least in part we believe to the pandemic and the existence of either delayed or unavailable health care and potentially side effects of having contracted COVID previously.
In the first quarter, the life policy obligations related to the non-COVID causes of death and favorable lapses were approximately $7 million higher than expected, primarily due to higher non-COVID deaths in our Direct-to-Consumer division than we anticipated. For the quarter, we incurred approximately $22 million in excess life policy obligations, of which approximately $15 million relates to non-COVID life claims. For the full year, we anticipate that our excess life policy obligations will now be approximately $64 million or 2.1% of our total life premium, two-thirds of which are related to higher non-COVID causes of death. This amount is approximately $11 million greater than we previously anticipated.
With respect to our earnings guidance for 2022, we are projecting net operating income per share will be in the range of $7.85 to $8.25 for the year ended December 31, 2022. The $8.05 midpoint is lower than the midpoint of our previous guidance of $8.25, primarily due to higher COVID life policy obligations related to higher expected US deaths during the year.
We continue to evaluate data available from multiple sources, including the IHME and CDC to estimate total US deaths due to COVID and to estimate the impact of those deaths on our in-force book. At the midpoint of our guidance, we estimate we will incur approximately $71 million of COVID life claims, assuming approximately 245,000 COVID deaths in the US. This is an increase of $21 million over our prior estimate. This estimate assumes daily deaths will diminish somewhat from recent levels but remain in an endemic state throughout the year. With respect to our cost per 10,000 deaths, we now estimate we will incur COVID life claims at the rate of $2.5 million to $3.5 million per 10,000 US COVID deaths for the full year or approximately $2.8 million per 10,000 US deaths over the final three quarters of the year.
Those are my comments. I will now turn the call back to Larry.