2019 Hurricane Season: “Slightly Above Average”

Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science released a summary of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season today.

Seven of the named storms lasted 24 hours or less – the most on record with such short longevity.

The 2019 season yielded 18 named storms, six of which became hurricanes, including three major ones (Category 3 or higher, with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph). While 18 is quite a bit more than the seasonal average of 12 , seven of the named storms lasted 24 hours or less – the most on record with such short longevity.

“The season ended up slightly above average when looking at integrated metrics, such as accumulated cyclone energy, that account for frequency, intensity and duration of storms,” said Dr. Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science, non-resident scholar at the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), and lead author of the report. “We generally forecast a near-average season, so we slightly under-predicted overall levels of Atlantic hurricane activity.”

Dorian: most destructive

Of the three major hurricanes, Dorian was the most destructive. Forming in late August, it devastated the northwestern Bahamas at Category 5 intensity, causing over 60 fatalities and economic losses that could be as much as $7 billion, according to a recent Artemis report. It then made landfall near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, as a Category 1 hurricane and later caused significant damage in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. Insurance broker Aon estimates the economic value of the damage Dorian inflicted on the United States at approximately $1.2 billion.

Hurricane Humberto, forming in September, caused much less damage than Dorian, as it remained hundreds of miles offshore. Nevertheless, it caused large swells across the U.S. East Coast and resulted in one fatality when a man drowned due to a rip current in North Carolina. Another man was reported missing in St. Augustine, Florida after the storm. Bermuda officials reported that no fatalities occurred on the island during Humberto’s passage.

Hurricane Lorenzo became a Category 5 hurricane in the central subtropical Atlantic – the farthest east Cat 5 Atlantic formation on record. It generated 49-foot waves, with an occasional rogue wave nearing 100 feet, sending swells to both sides of the Atlantic. Lorenzo caused 10 fatalities.

She nearly didn’t get a name

The most destructive storm to hit the continental United States in the 2019 season almost didn’t have a name. Two hours before dumping 40 inches of rain in some parts of Texas, Tropical Storm Imelda was just “a tropical depression,” Dr. Klotzbach said. Imelda was upgraded to a named storm 90 minutes before landfall, but it proceeded to deluge southeast Texas, causing at least $2 billion in economic damage and at least five deaths, according to Aon.

“From a wind perspective, Imelda was practically a non-event,” Dr. Klotzbach continued. “But the rain it brought made it the most expensive tropical cyclone to hit the United States during the 2019 season.”

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1 and ends officially on November 30. Colorado State’s full summary and verification report is available here.

 

Opioids and Workers’ Compensation

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Insurance Information Institute

As the opioid epidemic continues to roil the country, it’s easy to forget the number of issues that contribute to its severity. Indeed, for workers injured on the job, compensation can include opioid treatments—which can lead to opioid dependence. With this subject in mind, I spoke to Dr. Vennela Thumula, an author and policy analyst with the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), who was able to provide insight into opioid dispensing for injured workers.

This interview was modified for clarity.

What are you seeing as far as general trends in prescribing opioids for workers injured on the job, particularly as the opioid epidemic has become a more visible issue?

Our study – Interstate Variations in Dispensing of Opioids, 5th Edition – examined recent trends in opioids dispensed under workers compensation for workers from 27 states who had more than seven days of work loss due to their injury but who did not have a major surgical procedure related to the work injury.

Opioid dispensing to injured workers has decreased substantially in recent years in all 27 state workers’ compensation systems studied. Between 2012 and 2016 injuries followed for an average two years postinjury, the percentage of injured workers with prescriptions receiving opioids decreased by 8 percentage points (in Illinois) to 25 percentage points (in California). Among injured workers receiving opioids, the average morphine milligram equivalent (MME) amount of opioids dispensed per worker in the first two years of a claim decreased in nearly all study states, with 30 percent or higher reductions seen in 20 of the 27 states studied.

Which states are you still seeing higher-than-average prescribing rates for workers injured on the job? Why do you think these states are still seeing such high rates?

After the declines, opioid dispensing continues to be prevalent in some states. At the end of the study period, the percentage of injured workers with prescriptions receiving opioids ranged from 32 percent in New Jersey to 70 percent in Arkansas and Louisiana across the 27 states, and the average MME per worker in Delaware, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and New York continued to be the highest among the 27 study states.

For instance, in Delaware and Louisiana, the average MME per claim was more than three times the amount in the median (middle) state and over five times that in the state with the lowest amount, Missouri. We should note that although New York is among states with the higher-than-typical amount of opioids, there were substantial decreases in opioids dispensed to New York workers over the study period. We should also caution that these four states have implemented other opioid reforms towards the end or after the study period whose impact could be monitored with more recent data.

I see non-pharmacologic treatments are being used more often for workers injured on the job. What are the most common non-pharmacologic treatments utilized under workers’ compensation?

We see that providers have switched from multi-pronged pain treatments, which involve pain medications (including opioids) and other restorative therapies, to a treatment protocol that more frequently relies solely on non-pharmacologic services. The most frequent non-pharmacologic services billed and paid under workers compensation were physical medicine evaluation; active and passive physical medicine services such as electrical stimulation and hot and cold therapies; and passive manipulations such as manual therapy and massage.

How are these non-opioid pain treatments changing the landscape of workers’ compensation for patients and insurance companies? Are these treatments now prioritized over opioids?

Our first look at the data suggests a shift in treatment patterns away from opioids to non-pharmacologic services, which conforms to the recommendations of opioid prescribing and pain treatment guidelines and policies implemented in a number of states. Many questions remain answered, including the impact of these changing treatment patterns on claim outcomes. We will be talking more about alternatives to opioids for pain management at WCRI’s 36 Annual Issues & Research Conference, March 5 and 6, 2020, in Boston, MA.

 

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, November 8 to November 14

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

 

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Hurricane Michael insured losses reach $7.4 billion

Insured losses associated with 2018’s Hurricane Michael reached almost $7.44 billion, according to a recent Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (FOIR) update. The losses consist of residential and commercial property, private flood and business interruption insurance, and miscellaneous coverages. There were 149,773 claims made, and 89 percent of them were closed.

Hurricane Michael became a Category 5 storm on October 10, 2018, and made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, in the Florida Panhandle. It was the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Florida Panhandle and the second known Category 5 landfall on the northern Gulf Coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the first Category 5 storm to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

An Artemis analysis of the FOIR report says that based on the run-rate of costs per claim (around $65,890 per claim), another $1 billion could be added to the total before every claim is closed down and that many of the claims remaining open will be among the more costly. Fewer than 69 percent of commercial property claims are closed, compared to almost 89 percent of residential. Business interruption claims are also slow to close and therefore are likely to increase the total.

 

Despite Safer Skies, Aviation Claims Rise: 
What’s Up With That?

 Flying has never been safer.

You’re more likely to die from being attacked by a dog than in an airline accident (see chart).

Today’s aircraft contain more sophisticated electronics and materials than those flying in the 1960s. When they bump into each other or come down too hard, they cost more to repair.

And yet, according to a recent Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) report, the aviation sector’s insurance claims continue to grow in number and size.

The report – Aviation Risk 2020 – says 2017 was the first in at least 60 years of aviation in which there were no fatalities on a commercial airline. The year 2018, in which 15 fatal accidents occurred, ranks as the third safest year ever.

Of more than 29,000 recorded deaths between 1959 and 2017, the report says, fatalities between 2008 and 2017 accounted for less than 8 percent – despite the vast increase in the number of people and planes in the air since 1959.

So, what gives?

Safety is expensive

Some of the reasons for the increased claims are good ones: Safer aircraft cost more to repair and replace when there are problems.

The report analyzed 50,000 aviation claims from 2013 to 2018, worth $16.3 billion, and found “collision/crash incidents” accounted for 57 percent, or $9.3 billion. Now, this may sound bad, but the category includes things like hard landings, bird strikes, and “runway incidents.”

The AGCS analysis showed 470 runway incidents during the five-year period accounted for $883 million of damages.

Engine costs more than the plane

Today’s aircraft contain far more sophisticated electronics and materials than those flying in the 1960s. When they bump into each other or come down too hard, they cost more to repair.

“We recently handled a claim where a rental engine was required while the aircraft’s engine was repaired,” said Dave Watkins, regional head of general aviation, North America, at AGCS. “The value of the rental engine was more than the entire aircraft.”

When entire fleets have to be grounded – the report cites the 2013 grounding of the Boeing Dreamliner for lithium-ion battery problems and the more recent fatal crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max – costs can really soar. Boeing reportedly has set aside about $5 billion to cover costs related to the global grounding of the 737 Max.

Even after a fix is found, the task of retrofitting a fleet takes considerable time – and, in the aviation industry, time truly is money.

Liability awards take off

Compounding the claims associated with the costs of safer flight, the report says, liability awards have risen dramatically.

“With fewer major airline losses,” Watkins said, “attorneys are fighting over a much smaller pool and are putting more resources into fewer claims, pushing more aggressively for higher awards.”

Today’s aircraft carry hundreds of passengers at a time. With liability awards per passenger in the millions, a major aviation loss could easily result in a liability loss of $1 billion or more.

From the Triple-I Daily: Our most popular content, October 31 to November 7

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Florida’s AOB Crisis:
A Social-Inflation Microcosm

Never heard of “social inflation”? It’s a fancy term to describe rising litigation costs and their impact on insurers’ claim payouts, loss ratios, and, ultimately, how much policyholders pay for coverage.

The number of auto glass AOB lawsuits statewide in 2013 was over 3,800; by 2017, that number had grown to more than 20,000.

While there’s no universally agreed-upon definition, frequently mentioned aspects of social inflation are growing awards from sympathetic juries and a trend called “litigation funding”, in which investors pay plaintiffs to sue large companies – often insurers – in return for a share in the settlement.

Less discussed are state initiatives that inadvertently invite costly abuse. Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis is an excellent example.

Assignment of benefits (AOB) is a standard insurance practice and an efficient, customer-friendly way to settle claims. As a convenience, a policyholder lets a third party – say, an auto glass repair company – directly bill the insurer.

Easy.

In Florida, however, legislative wrinkles have spawned a crisis.

The state’s “David and Goliath” law was meant to level the playing field between policyholders and economically powerful insurers. It lets plaintiffs’ attorneys collect fees from the insurer if they win their case – but not vice versa. If the insurer wins, the plaintiff owes the insurer nothing.  This creates an incentive for attorneys to file thousands of AOB-related suits because there is no limit on the fees they can collect and no risk. Legal fees can dwarf actual damages paid to the policyholder – sometimes tens of thousands of dollars for a single low-damage claim.

AOBs are an efficient, customer-friendly way to settle claims…. In Florida, however, legislative wrinkles have spawned a crisis.

This type of arrangement is unique to Florida. And, despite efforts to contain it through reforms to the state’s personal injury protection (PIP) program, the abuse has spread beyond its origins in the southern part of the state and to other lines than personal auto and homeowner’s insurance. More than 153,000 AOB suits were filed in Florida in 2018 – a 94% increase from about 1,300 five years earlier.

Contributing to the crisis is the ease with which unscrupulous contractors can “find” damage unrelated to an insured incident or overbill for work done and file a claim. Florida statutes let policyholders assign benefits to a third party without insurer consent – which limits the insurer’s ability to monitor a claim to make sure costs aren’t inflated.

A measure signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year aimed to curb AOB litigation by putting new requirements on contractors and letting insurers offer policies with limited AOB rights, or none at all.  However, it excludes auto glass repairs. The number of auto glass AOB lawsuits statewide in 2013 was over 3,800; by 2017, that number had grown to more than 20,000.

Florida’s experience provides an ongoing study into how hard it can be to stuff the social inflation genie back into its bottle.

For more details, see I.I.I.’s white paper, “Florida’s Assignment of Benefits Crisis: Runaway Litigation Is Spreading, and Consumers are Paying the Price”.

House Panel Approves Terrorism Insurance Backstop Reauthorization

“Ground Zero,Lower Manhattan,NYC.”

The House Financial Services Committee on October 31 approved an amended version of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2019 that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on cyberterrorism risks and the Department of Treasury to issue a biennial report that includes “disaggregated data on places of worship.”

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (TRIA), approved after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., provided a backstop to encourage insurers to resume writing terrorism policies. After 9/11, primary insurers sought to explicitly exclude terrorism coverage from their commercial policies, and reinsurers became unwilling to assume risks in urban areas perceived as vulnerable to attack.

TRIA created the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program (TRIP), a federal loss-sharing program for certain insured losses resulting from a certified act of terrorism. TRIP provides a backstop for insurers and has to be periodically reauthorized. It is currently due to expire at the end of 2020.

In addition to the reporting requirements mentioned above, the amended legislation shortens the extension period from 10 years.

The bill says the cyber report should analyze the general vulnerabilities and potential costs of cyberattacks on the nation’s infrastructure and reach conclusions about whether cyberrisk, particularly cyberliabilities, under property/casualty insurance, can be sufficiently covered and adequately priced.

The insurance industry has praised the progress of the extension as well as the proposed studies of cyber exposures. The next step toward TRIA reauthorization is a floor vote in the House of Representatives.

Follow the conversation about the federal terrorism backstop here.

Deer season creates road hazards

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Insurance Information Institute

Deer season—which usually runs from October through December—can be a dangerous time for motorists. During this period, deer are moving frequently and often cross over dangerous areas, like highways and other heavily-trafficked areas.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there are more than 1.5 million accidents related to deer every year, which result in over $1 billion in vehicle damages. And these accidents aren’t merely expensive: 211 people died in collisions with animals in 2017.

Indeed, between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019 one out of every 116 drivers had an insurance claim from hitting an animal, according to State Farm. These claims were most likely in West Virginia, with one in 38 people making an insurance claim based on this kind of accident.

With this in mind, it’s important to take precautions when driving during this period of the year. Deer often travel in groups, so it’s vital to slow down with even one deer on the side of the road. Additionally, try to brake instead of swerving if faced with a crash. Above all, be alert—there’s no substitute for prudence during deer season.

The Insurance Information Institute has Facts & Statistics on deer vehicle collisions here.