From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, May 24 to May 30

Here are the 5 most clicked on articles from this week’s I.I.I. Daily newsletter.

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NICB: Watercraft theft sank in 2018

istock

 

The official start of summer is just a few weeks away, and for many that means leisure time spent on the water in a boat. Boating is a very popular pastime with an estimated 141.6 million Americans going boating in 2016.  Sales of recreational watercraft (powerboats, personal watercraft and sailboats) reached a high of $39 billion in 2017, up 6.5 percent from 2016.

Like cars, boats are often stolen. But the boat owners among us will be happy to know that watercraft theft was down by 8 percent in 2018 over the prior year. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) 2018 watercraft theft report, a total of 4,499 watercraft were reported stolen in the U.S. between January 1 and December 31, 2018.

Florida was the top state for watercraft theft, followed by California, Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. According to the NICB report, personal watercraft were the most likely type of watercraft to be stolen followed by runabouts, utility boats, cruisers and sailboats,.

You can do a lot to help prevent someone stealing your boat. The NICB recommends the following tips to protect watercraft from theft:

  • When you “dock it, lock it” and secure it to the dock with a steel cable
  • Remove expensive equipment when not in use
  • Chain and lock detachable motors to the boat
  • Do not leave title or registration papers in the craft
  • Disable the craft by shutting fuel lines or removing batteries
  • Use a trailer hitch lock after parking a boat on its trailer
  • Install a kill switch in the ignition system
  • Ensure your marine insurance policy includes your equipment, boat and trailer
  • Take photos of the boat and mark it with a Hull Identification Number (HIN)

 

 

Auto insurance prices and overall inflation

By Dr. Steven Weisbart, Chief Economist, Insurance Information Institute 

There is remarkable good news on the auto insurance front— auto insurance prices have been trending downward since February 2018, and are now below the general inflation rate, but no one seems to have noticed.

The vast majority of consumers in America buy auto insurance, so the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates a price component for it each month as part of the various versions of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).[1]

But insurance, like many products and services, is a difficult product for which to calculate a price. Ideally, one would want to determine only the change in the amount a consumer would pay to buy the exact same thing today as he/she would have paid in a prior time period. The challenge, with auto insurance as with many other products, is matching “the exact same thing” from a prior period. With cars, BLS tries to remove the effect on price changes of changes in features in new models that differ from prior models.

With auto insurance, the main reason premiums change from one period to another is insurers expectations for claims in the policy period. Obviously, changes can also be affected by expected investment results and by expense issues such as reinsurance prices. BLS has no way to account for these effects. It does try to standardize its calculation by using a hypothetical group of policyholders applying for a specified set of coverages and asking a panel of insurers to provide quotes for them.

So when, in 2016 and 2017, claims frequency ended its long downward trend and spiked upward, it was not surprising to see the BLS auto insurance price index rise as well. Figure 1 shows what this looked like (comparing prices in the current month to the same month in the prior year, seasonally adjusted by BLS):

Figure 1

The peak price change reached 9.7 percent in February 2018. But the spike in frequency ended, and you can see in Figure 1 that year-over-year price changes for auto insurance started trending down, ending the year at an increase rate of 4.7 percent.

The downward trend has continued into 2019. Figure 2 shows the results through April:

 

Figure 2

BLS says that the April 2019 auto insurance price is only 1.4 percent above the price in April 2018. This is not only below the rate of general inflation which, depending on how you measure it, has been running at roughly 2 percent for several years, but it is also the lowest year-over-year increase in auto insurance prices in over a decade (the last time the rate of increase was this low was in March 2008—also 1.4 percent).

So where are the headlines?

[1]The most familiar index is the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)—prices as experienced by all urban consumers, but BLS also publishes CPI-W (prices as experienced by urban wage earners and clerical workers).

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, May 17 to May 23

Here are the 5 most clicked on articles from this week’s I.I.I. Daily newsletter.

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Memorial Day weekend road safety tips

The Memorial Day weekend brings masses of holiday travelers out on the road, and that unfortunately means more accidents. One recent study found that Memorial Day is the deadliest of all holidays, with drivers and passengers four times as likely to die in a traffic accident over the holiday weekend as over a regular weekend. And while these grim statistics should not dissuade you from traveling by car this weekend, here are some driving safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t drive if you’re drunk or high; that’s a no-brainer. But also ask yourself if you are tired, sick or drowsy. If you’re impaired in any way, do not hit the road.
  • Make sure your car is in good condition. Are you up-to-date on maintenance, are your tires inflated properly and does your windshield give you a clear view?
  • Practice defensive, safe driving tactics including: buckling your seatbelt; stay aware of other drivers; maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you; and observe speed limits and traffic signals.
  • Be ready to focus on driving.  Distracted driving accounts for an increasing number of crashes.  Whether it’s talking to passengers, switching radio stations or texting, anything that takes your concentration from the task at hand can lead to an accident.
  • Be prepared. What is the weather like? Is a storm likely? Do you have emergency supplies in the car like water, a first-aid kit, flashlight, blanket, map and a roadside safety kit? Here is a checklist of items you should keep in your car.

Have a safe holiday weekend, all!

 

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.

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, May 10 to May 16

Here are the 5 most clicked on articles from this week’s I.I.I. Daily newsletter.

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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.