How to insure your college tuition

The most tangible benefit of insurance is to make someone whole after a loss. Sometimes that means paying for a new roof. Other times that means cutting a check after a car is totaled.

If you have “tuition insurance,” it could also mean refunding your college tuition if you have to withdraw during the semester.

To learn more about this kind of insurance, I spoke with Paul D. Richardson, Liberty Mutual’s managing director for tuition insurance distribution. The 2018 – 2019 academic year is Liberty’s first foray into offering tuition insurance.

Refunding tuition in case the unexpected happens

Tuition insurance is a simple concept: it will refund college costs if a student has to withdraw from school at any point during the semester because of an unforeseen event, like an illness, accident or mental health issue. Those costs include tuition, room and board, and any mandatory fees assessed on the student.

The student (or, more likely, parents) just needs to buy the coverage before the semester starts. Premiums are usually about 1 percent of the total costs. Not a bad deal if you can recover $25,000 for $250.

Richardson pointed out that this isn’t really a new concept. But traditionally, tuition insurance was only available through a few select universities. Parents might not have even known it existed. And if they did, they were often under the (incorrect) impression that the university would refund their costs if their kid withdrew – so why buy insurance on top of the already-exorbitant cost of college?

University refunds are not guaranteed

“A lot of parents and students are unaware of how university refund policies work,” Richardson said. “Usually they operate on a sliding scale.” But if the student has to withdraw a month or so into the semester, in many cases they might not get any money back at all.

That’s where tuition insurance comes in. “Tuition insurance covers the gap,” Richardson said. Whatever the university doesn’t refund gets picked up by the policy to make sure that reimbursement is 100 percent. It’s a relatively affordable way to protect a significant financial investment.

The nitty-gritty details

Obviously, it’s not that simple. Like any policy, there are terms and conditions to tuition insurance. A key aspect is that the student has to withdraw entirely from the academic semester. “To qualify for reimbursement, they can’t earn any academic credit as a result of the withdrawal,” said Richardson. Tuition insurance wouldn’t be needed if a student misses a few weeks of class and then returns to pass their final exams, since they would not be out any tuition dollars.

It also doesn’t apply during summer break. “The policy period is the first day of classes and ends the last day of classes,” Richardson said.

Tuition insurance also comes with exclusions. For example, while pre-existing medical conditions are generally covered, there are some situations where coverage would not apply.  Poor academic performance is not covered, unsurprisingly.

Sports injuries are probably covered, since they’re usually within the scope of a student’s academic life. But there is no coverage for professional sports, like if you’re getting paid to participate in an intramural Ultimate Frisbee tournament.

And not all recreational injuries are covered. “Activities that come with an upfront serious potential for a major accident are often excluded,” Richardson said. “We look at each case individually but generally we draw the line at something that would cause an accident that is an extremely high risk. Like skydiving, that’s actually a named exclusion in the policy.”

Customizable coverage

Every student’s needs are unique. That’s why the Liberty Mutual tuition insurance product is highly customizable. Living off-campus? Then you’ll probably get a cheaper premium that doesn’t cover room and board. Have a scholarship? Depending on the terms of the grant, you may be able to cover that as well. “We’re trying to allow students and families to customize their price point based on their financial needs,” said Richardson.

You can learn more about Liberty Mutual’s program here.

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Live webcast: I.I.I. CEO Sean Kevelighan talks insurance market dynamics at CAS spring meeting

Sean Kevelighan, I.I.I. CEO

Interested in the state of the insurance market? Tune in to a free live webcast on Monday, May 20th at 11:20 a.m. ET to watch Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) CEO Sean Kevelighan talk about the industry at the Casualty Actuarial Society’s Spring Meeting.

Kevelighan will address the insurance market’s financial performance over the last 15 years with a special focus on rising auto costs and on leadership needed to sustain the business model, create jobs and promote/facilitate economic growth. Plus, he’ll touch on InsurTech and digital transformation in insurance.

No pre-registration is required to watch the webcast, just go to this link at 11:20 a.m. to watch the live session.

Auto insurance rating factors explained

By James Lynch, Chief Actuary, Insurance Information Institute

 

 

With automobile rating factors in the news, here at Insurance Information Institute we have been fielding a number of calls on the topic. Here is some background information.

I testified May 1 before Congress, and rating factors were among the issues I was asked about. Here is that testimony. Here is a link to a webcast of the hearing.

The National Conference of Insurance Legislators has a model act on use of insurance scores that about 40 states have adopted.

Insurance scores have been thoroughly examined for around two decades, and there is no doubt that they are good at predicting the likelihood of loss. The NAIC has a roundup of scholarship here.

There is concern that the scores act as a proxy for income, a variable that insurers are banned from using. Here is recent research questioning that assumption, “Do Credit-Based Insurance Scores Proxy for Income in Predicting Auto Claim Risk” (This study “finds that insurance score does not act as proxy for income in a standard actuarial model of auto claim risk.” It is also notable because one of the authors, Daniel Schwarcz, served as consumer representative to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners from 2007 to 2014.)

And we get asked a lot why an insurance credit score can predict whether someone is likely to be in an accident. Here’s a study: “Empirical Evidence on the Use of Credit Scoring for Predicting Insurance Losses with Psycho-social and Biochemical Explanations” From the study: “The results show that credit scores contain significant information not already incorporated into other traditional rating variables (e.g., age, sex, driving history). We discuss how sensation seeking and self-control theory provide a partial explanation of why credit scoring works (the psycho-social perspective). This article also presents an overview of biological and chemical correlates of risk taking that helps explain why knowing risk-taking behavior in one realm (e.g., risky financial behavior and poor credit history) transits to predicting risk-taking behavior in other realms (e.g., automobile insurance incurred losses).”

Here is a I.I.I. background paper on insurance scores.

 

Florida has passed AOB reform – but will it be enough?

As we noted a few weeks ago, the Florida Senate has passed a bill designed to reform parts of the state’s insurance assignment of benefits (AOB) system. Governor Ron DeSantis has stated that he plans to sign the bill into law. (You can view the Senate version of the bill, SB 122, here).

Florida’s AOB system has long been in dire need of reform.

As we document in our report “Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis”, an assignment of benefits (AOB) is a contract that allows a third party – a contractor, a medical provider, an auto repair shop – to bill an insurance company directly for repairs or other services done for the policyholder.

The process is innocuous and common throughout the country. But as our report notes, Florida’s unique legal system richly rewards plaintiff’s attorneys and vendors when they submit inflated bills to insurance companies and then file lawsuits when those bills are disputed. Tens of thousands of lawsuits.

Reform only addresses property insurance

The new AOB bill is designed to curtail at least some of this abuse by addressing how AOBs can be executed and how plaintiff’s attorneys can be compensated. But it’s important to note that the bill addresses AOBs in property insurance.

For good reason: AOB abuse has been a growing problem in homeowners property insurance.

Other lines also face AOB abuse

However, AOB abuse is not limited to property insurance. As we document in our report, the abuse actually started in personal injury protection (PIP) claims in personal auto insurance and then spread to homeowners following PIP reform in 2012. The abuse also spread into auto glass coverage in the past few years, though there was a decrease in auto glass abuse in 2018.

The lesson here is that AOB abuse is not limited to one line of insurance. Indeed, reforms could push abuse into a different line, as was the case with homeowners and auto glass after PIP was reformed.

While reforming AOBs in property insurance could have a significant impact on the problem in Florida, it remains to be seen whether abuse overall will change with reform. Some have argued that the abuse could continue in other lines where the reform doesn’t reach, like auto glass. And perhaps it could move into another line that hasn’t even been abused yet, like businessowners insurance. There are also worries that abusive AOB claims could spike right before the reform comes into effect.

For more information about the scope of the problem, download our report here.

Pushback continues against ALI restatement of liability insurance

In May 2018, the American Law Institute (ALI) gave final approval to its “Restatement of Law, Liability Insurance.” Portions of the restatement continue to prove controversial, and state legislators have begun pushing back against it.

The ALI is an independent organization of legal professionals that seeks to clarify and simplify U.S. case law to help judges in their decisions. To this end, the ALI publishes a variety of materials that describe what the case law says in various areas, including insurance. One of the materials the ALI publishes is called a “restatement of law,” which attempts to describe common law and its statutory elements. It’s basically a way for judges to know where the law currently stands on a variety of issues.

The latest restatement addresses liability insurance and includes provisions that have met with vocal opposition from state legislatures, the insurance industry, and lawyers. These include, among other things, possible changes to how insurance policies can be interpreted; how coverages are triggered for “long-tail” claims (claims that can last for many years, like environmental losses); and how an insurer might be held responsible for breaching its duty to defend.

Opponents argue that some provisions of the restatement could fundamentally – and improperly – change how liability law operates. That in so changing liability law, the restatement arrogates powers to regulate insurance that properly belong to state legislatures. That many aspects of the restatement do not accurately reflect current state case law and weigh the scales against the legal rights of insurance companies. That portions of the restatement are less a description of law than they are a “wish list” for what the law should be.

Others have called these criticisms of the restatement unfounded or have sought a more balanced response to its changes.

But regardless of who is right, state legislatures have begun to act against the restatement. The National Conference of Insurance Legislators has come out against it. Arkansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas have all recently passed legislation that in some form seeks to curtail or condemn the use of the restatement under their respective insurance laws. The Kentucky and Indiana legislatures have also passed resolutions stating their opposition to the ALI’s restatement.

How this will all shake out remains to be seen: will the restatement of law for liability insurance begin to make its mark in case law? Will legislation against the restatement continue to spread? Only time will tell.

Michigan arson hotline gets a second life

If it weren’t for the intervention of a determined National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) agent and the staff of the Michigan Basic Property Insurance Association (MBPIA), a valuable Michigan arson prevention program would have bitten the dust.

The Michigan Arson Hotline and Rewards Program was run by the Michigan Arson Prevention Committee (MAPC), an agency that provided many services to the state’s fire/police departments, insurance carriers, and the public. But the agency was defunded in 2017 and the hotline ceased to exist. That was unfortunate because the hotline was so successful that from 2014 through 2018, the number of arson-related suspicious claims referred to NICB from Michigan decreased by nearly 50 percent.

During its 30 years of operation the hotline paid out nearly $1 million to confidential informants whose information lead to the arrest and conviction of numerous arsonists, some of whom were involved in very high-profile arson fires within the state.

So, when the hotline was shut down, NICB Supervisory Special Agent Joseph Hanley, working with the Michigan Basic Property Insurance Association (MBPIA), decided to act to revive it. In January, 2018, Hanley and representatives of the MBPIA approached the Detroit Crime Commission (DCC) with a proposal for the DCC to assume the administrative responsibilities of the arson hotline and rewards program. Acknowledging the mutual support and success of the arson hotline, the DCC enthusiastically agreed to the proposal.

Arson is the act of deliberately setting fire to a building, car or other property for fraudulent or malicious purposes and is a crime in all states. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were 22,500 fires intentionally set in structures in 2017, an increase of 13 percent from 2016. The 2017 structure arson cases resulted in 280 civilian deaths and $582 million in property loss. Additionally, there were an estimated 8,500 intentionally set vehicle fires in 2017, these fires resulted in $75 million in property loss, an increase of 88 percent from 2016.

The I.I.I. has facts about arson here (members only content).

Offshore wind farms: what’s the insurance angle?

In January 2019, wind power accounted for about 7 percent of net energy generation in the United States. While that doesn’t sound like much, wind power has been a significant contributor to new electricity generation over the past few years (though natural gas still leads the pack).

While most wind farms are onshore, wind farms on large lakes and oceans are becoming increasingly popular. Most notably, offshore wind speeds are much faster and steadier than on land. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that wind off U.S. coasts offers a technical resource potential of about 7,200 terawatt-hours of electricity generation per year – which basically translates to double the country’s current electricity use. Even if just 1 percent of this potential is tapped into, that can end up powering nearly 6.5 million homes.

What’s the insurance angle?

Constructing and operating an offshore wind turbine is no stroll on the beach. Start-up costs can be significant (though they have been declining rapidly). And many pieces – both literal and logistical – need to come together before a wind farm can start generating electricity: transporting the towers and blades out to sea on specialized vessels; sinking foundations into the ocean or lake floor; constructing onshore and offshore power substations; laying cable between the turbine and the land. Plus, there’s Mother Nature to reckon with, like hurricanes and lightning strikes (a very common danger facing wind turbines, unsurprisingly).

Offshore wind operations are complex, with many unique risks. But the insurance marketplace is sophisticated and offers coverage for all phases of wind farm construction and operation.

There is no standard “offshore wind turbine” insurance policy. In all likelihood, windfarm insurance policies are a tailored mixture of many different policies to meet an operator’s unique needs.

Let’s walk through some of the coverages that might be made available.

Wind turbine construction

Builder’s risk property insurance: this insurance covers property during a construction project. There is no standard builder’s risk form, so coverage can vary widely, but usually the coverage applies to the building being constructed and any materials being used on site.

Liability wrap-up insurance: Typically all the engineers, contractors, subcontractors, etc. on a construction project have their own general and professional liability insurance. But for big, complicated projects like an offshore wind farm, the project owner might purchase what’s called a “wrap-up”, which basically, well, wraps up everyone’s liability insurance into one policy. This both simplifies the risk management process and offers cost savings to everyone involved.

Delay in start-up insurance: Affectionately called “DSU insurance,” this coverage protects developers and owners of any revenue lost due to a delay in finishing construction. For example, if a wind turbine’s construction is delayed because of a storm, DSU could cover the operator for their lost revenue.

Wind turbine operation

Property/liability insurance: Like pretty much every commercial operation, wind turbine operations probably have a package of property and liability insurance. The former will cover the actual turbine from certain types of losses (like fire); the latter will cover the wind turbine owners from any liability they might incur against others, like if the turbine collapses and hits a nearby boat.

Wind operations might also have business interruption coverage, which could kick-in if a turbine stops functioning and the operator losses money during the downtime. They may also have separate coverage protecting them from any pollution or environmental liability arising out of the turbine’s operations.

Ocean marine insurance

Offshore wind operators may also consider ocean marine insurance coverages, which can include:

  • Hull insurance: insuring a vessel for physical damage.
  • Ocean marine liability insurance: covering liability arising out of a vessel’s operation, including collision damage and, often, wreck cleanups.
  • Ocean marine cargo insurance: covering damage to cargo on a vessel.

Insurance plays a vital role in developing offshore wind farms. Operators and investors already face significant costs just to get a turbine out to sea. Knowing that insurance will protect them if something goes wrong is one of the reasons they’re willing to take on these vital energy projects in the first place.

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All about pandemic catastrophe bonds

In previous articles, we discussed how communicable diseases and pandemics are (or are not) addressed in personal and commercial insurance policies. Today, we’ll talk about pandemic catastrophe bonds.

The Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2016 ultimately resulted in more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths, most of them concentrated in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

The outbreak inspired the World Bank to develop a so-called “pandemic catastrophe bond,” an instrument designed to quickly provide financial support in the event of an outbreak. The World Bank reportedly estimated that if the West African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak had had quicker access to financial support, then only 10 percent of the total deaths would have occurred.

But wait, what are “catastrophe bonds” and what’s so special about a pandemic bond?

“Traditional” catastrophe bonds

Like good old-fashioned insurance, catastrophe bonds are a way to transfer risk, often for natural disasters. They usually work like this: investors buy a high-yield bond issued by an insurance company. If a specific qualifying event occurs, such as if claims from a natural disaster exceed a certain amount (an “indemnity trigger”), the bond holders forfeit the principal of the bond, which goes to the insurer to help defray costs.

Catastrophe bonds are high-risk investments – hence the high yields they pay to investors to compensate for that risk. After all, there’s a pretty good chance a sizeable hurricane will hit in any given year.

Pandemic catastrophe bonds

Pandemic catastrophe bonds are similar. An entity (like the World Bank) sells a bond, which pays interest to the investors over time. If certain triggers occur, then the principal from the bond sale is quickly funneled to medical efforts to contain and quell the disease outbreak. That way, affected regions don’t have to wait for aid money to be raised and coordinated.

Pandemic bonds are somewhat different from traditional catastrophe bonds, though. Remember, traditional catastrophe bond triggers are usually based on insurance losses (indemnity triggers), which don’t make much sense in the context of a disease outbreak. Insurance losses can take quite some time to adjust and finalize.

There’s no time for that kind of thing when we’re dealing with a pandemic. Capital needs to move quickly to the affected region. So if a trigger can be quickly determined, then the capital payouts can be made quickly as well.

That’s why pandemic bonds are triggered by, for example, the number of patients or the speed of disease spread (a “parametric trigger”). Parametric triggers are usually objectively verifiable, such as how many cases of a disease have been reported in a given time. Once that trigger is activated, the bond gets to work. No further adjustment needed.

Why are catastrophe bonds useful for fighting pandemics?

And that’s what makes pandemic bonds attractive for addressing disease outbreaks: speed. Since pandemic bonds are not triggered by losses, but rather by the actual, real-time spread of the disease, capital can flow much faster than if it had to wait until insurance losses began rolling in. That means near-immediate financial support for health clinics, aid workers, containment efforts, and more.

Indeed, the speed of capital flow to emergency response is crucial for pandemics. Global supply chains and interchange, not to mention the exponential growth in international travel, mean that disease outbreaks can spread much faster and can cause much more widespread damage than in the past. The faster a disease can be nipped in the bud, the fewer people infected – and the less disastrous the outbreak.

Pandemic bonds in the real world

In 2016 the World Bank developed the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF), which created, in part, a pandemic catastrophe bond to help provide capital in the event of another disease outbreak in West Africa. The PEF is triggered by number of deaths, speed of disease spread, and the spread of disease across international borders, and provides coverage for six viruses, including Ebola. The program has been supported by private reinsurers as well, including Munich Re and Swiss Re.

You can learn more about the PEF here.

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