All posts by James Lynch

The “After Glow” of Tax Reform Politics Too Good to Pass Up for Anti-Insurance Crowd

By Sean Kevelighan, CEO, ‎Insurance Information Institute

After the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 passed late last year, the Insurance Information Institute received numerous queries about the impact on property/casualty insurers. Given our mission at I.I.I. is not rooted in direct lobbying advocacy, we consciously refrained from engaging in what was sure to be (and was, in fact) a political battleground in some areas during the legislative process. That said, the industry deserves credit for coming together in many ways to ensure insurance receives fair treatment — a lesson learned from 1986 when the industry was sidelined.

While the anti-insurance crowd (most often misleading themselves as “pro consumer” groups) has been quick to add political rhetoric in the form of baseless and wildly exaggerated claims the industry will receive a “windfall” of income, the I.I.I. will, once again, adhere to facts that are based on actuarial and economic soundness.

Objectively, the I.I.I. sees the overall benefits to tax reform for the insurance industry to be well under 1 cent for every premium dollar.

How do we get that estimate?

Equity analysts at J.P. Morgan estimate tax reform would be about 5 percent of industry earnings, which seems reasonable based on what we know. In 2016 – 2017 industrywide results aren’t out yet – net income was $42.6 billion. Five percent of that would be a bit over $2 billion – more than I have in my pocket, but only about one-third of 1 percent of the $600 billion the industry wrote that year.

Here are a couple of other things to consider about insurers and taxes:

  • Insurance companies pay a wide variety of rates. They pay one rate on underwriting profits, another on dividends from preferred stock, another on bond payments and yet another on municipal bond payments which are almost, but not quite, tax-free. The headline rate fell considerably, but many of the other rates didn’t change at all.
  • Some companies may get a tax increase. Foreign-based groups that have historically ceded a portion of their U.S. business to an offshore affiliate based outside the U.S. are now subject to the Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax – call it BEAT. However, the reduction in the overall tax rate may offset the other changes, depending on each company’s circumstances.

It is important to understand that insurance costs will quickly adjust to the new tax reality. Insurers in the largest lines – personal auto and homeowners – adjust their rates annually – sometimes more frequently. The rate – by law – explicitly reflects every cost an insurer incurs, including taxes. When the tax law changes, insurers build the new rate into their models.

Much like any business in America, insurance will use some of the benefits to invest — in its employees, products and services — so as to improve and grow. Given the industry is the second largest financial services contributor to our economy (2.8% of GDP), employing nearly 3 million Americans, it is critical that insurers make their own decisions.  If not, then where does the line get drawn? Next, the anti-business crowd would (or perhaps already has) call on other industries to make uneconomic pricing decisions.

Update: This blog post has been changed to clarify information regarding the BEAT tax.

Commentary by I.I.I. chief actuary published in law review

Commentary on workers compensation insurance by I.I.I Chief Actuary James Lynch is being published in the upcoming issue of the Rutgers University Law Review.

Lynch’s piece, “Comment to Economic Incentives in Workers’ Compensation: A Holistic International Perspective,” was written in response to an article by Stanford Professor Alison Morantz and others. The two spoke at a 2015 conference about the Grand Bargain in workers compensation.

Speakers discussed whether recent events were jeopardizing the so-called ‘Grand Bargain’ – workers forfeit their right to sue for on-the-job injuries in exchange for predictable benefits from a no-fault system. Professor Morantz’s article compared social safety net programs (including workers comp) worldwide and “discusses several mounting pressures that are jeopardizing the capacity of the U.S. workers’ compensation system to carry out its intended goals.”

In his response, Lynch noted that much of the current research in U.S. workers compensation “involves finding ways to reduce incentives that drive costs higher with no discernable benefit to the worker.” One example cited: When New York doctors book surgery for comp patients in New Jersey, they charge an average of $4,954, or 266 percent more than if the same surgery with the same surgeon took place in New York. (The I.I.I Blog featured this research two years ago.

Neither Morantz’s nor Lynch’s article was online as of February 16, but both should become available at the law review website soon.

WCRI conference: The annual deep dive into workers comp

If I were to pick out the hottest topics in workers compensation these days, these three would be near the top:
• Opioids.
• Marijuana.
• How technology will affect the industry.
All three will be prominently featured at the Workers Compensation Research Institute’s Annual Issues & Research Conference March 22 and 23 at the Westin Copley Place, Boston.
The research organization, known by its acronym, WCRI, has for more than three decades conducted deep, objective research into what makes the workers comp system tick. Its conference annually hosts about the deepest dive you can find into the intricacies of the largest commercial line of business. I attend every year, and am happy for the privilege.
This year attendees will hear the latest on how opioids affect the ability of workers to return to their job; how Americans deal with prescription drugs in the workplace; and how a major employer – United Airlines – addresses the issue.
And a University of Georgia researcher, Dr. David Bradford, will discuss his studies on the effect of medical marijuana programs on prescription drug spending.
And opening speaker Erica L. Groshen, former head of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, will look at how artificial intelligence, robots, driverless cars and such will affect the labor force. From the conference website:

She will argue that much of the hype about the future of work is either far too optimistic or to pessimistic. In addition, she will talk about how the official statistics are more important than ever.
They are the information infrastructure that we all need to see through the haze, so that we make good decisions for our companies, our communities and ourselves.

Conference details are here.

Flood insurance after the government shutdown

At 12:01 Saturday, the U.S. government shut down. Here is what that means for the National Flood Insurance Program, as taken from the NFIP’s web site (last updated Wednesday):

FEMA and Congress have never failed to honor the flood insurance contracts in place with NFIP policyholders. In the unlikely event the NFIP’s authorization lapses, FEMA would still have authority to ensure the payment of valid claims with available funds.

However, FEMA would stop selling and renewing policies for millions of properties in communities across the nation. Nationwide, the National Association of Realtors estimates that a lapse might impact approximately 40,000 home sale closings per month.


Actuarial science vs. Neuroscience

I get interviewed by a lot of newspapers, magazines and TV stations, but maybe the most interesting one came last year when I spoke to David Scharfenberg of the Boston Globe about neuroscience and actuarial science.

David’s article looks at the criminal justice system and suggests that people under the age of 25 should be classified and punished differently from people older than that. Their young-ish minds aren’t fully developed.

He points to scientific studies and programs, but he wanted to talk to me about insurance. The I.I.I., of course, has no opinion on criminal justice, but famously, auto insurers charge younger drivers more than older drivers, and the rates generally change about age 25.

From the article, here is what I said:

The insurance industry’s decades-old imposition of higher rates on young adult drivers is . . . rooted in hard numbers.

The data show a significant decline in the number of accidents for drivers over the age of 25, because they’re more experienced and more mature. And property casualty insurers — more than 2,000 in all — have to retest that proposition year after year, in order to justify the elevated rates to state regulators.

“It’s like, ‘OK, here we are in Arkansas — well, looks like we’re going to be drawing the line at 25, 26 again,’ ” Lynch says. “Now, we’re looking at Massachusetts — oh, there we are again.” The industry, he says, has known for decades what the white coats in the lab are now confirming.

“We were there,” he says, “long before the neuroscientists.”

Postscript: This article was actually published in November, but I only heard about it in mid-January when a prisoner at a correctional center in Massachusetts asked for more information. I sent him this link from our Facts and Statistics page.

NFIP taps reinsurance market again in 2018

The National Flood Insurance Program returned to the private reinsurance market for 2018, paying $235 million for $1.458 billion coverage from a single flood event.

The coverage limit is 40 percent more than what the NFIP purchased last year ($1.042 billion), and the premium is 56 percent higher than the $150 million NFIP paid last year. The 2017 treaty was the first significant foray for the government insurer into the private sector, and the government recovered the entire $1.042 billion from Hurricane Harvey’s floods.

The structure is a bit different this year. Last year reinsurers covered 26 percent of $4 billion in losses after NFIP retained $4 billion losses. Reinsurers will pay 18.6 percent of the first $2 billion of losses excess of $4 billion and will pay 54.3 percent of the $2 billion excess $6 billion.

Both last year and this, the NFIP gets no protection for the first $4 billion of any flood event – the $4 billion acts similar to a deductible on an insurance policy. After that, the worse the flood gets, the more NFIP recovers, and this year the maximum is $1.458 billion.


  • A $5 billion flood would result in a recovery of $186 million – $5 billion minus $4 billion is $1 billion and 18.6 percent of that is $186 million.
  • A $7.5 billion flood would result in a recovery of $1.1865 billion:
    • For the first $6 billion, the recovery would be $372 million, being 18.6 percent of $2 billion (after the $4 billion “deductible.”)
    • For the $1.5 billion in losses above $6 billion, the recovery would be $814.5 million, being 54.3 percent of $1.5 billion.

NFIP explains the structure in a press release, with program Director Roy E. Wright adding his thoughts in a blog post.

Harvey was the third worst flood in NFIP’s 50 years, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005 ($16.3 billion) and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 ($8.7 billion). Harvey has generated 91,514 claims through January 5, according to messaging from FEMA, and 90.9 percent of them have closed. The average payment has been $108,825.

The I.I.I. has more information on floods and flood insurance here.

What are the odds? Pretty good. . .

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt discusses how people think about probability:

People understand that if they roll a die 100 times, they will get some 1’s. But when they see a probability for one event, they tend to think: Is this going to happen or not?

They then effectively round to 0 or to 100 percent. . . . It’s . . . what many Americans did when they heard Hillary Clinton had a 72 percent or 85 percent chance of winning. It’s what football fans did in the Super Bowl when the Atlanta Falcons had a 99 percent chance of victory.

If you tell someone a thing is unlikely, they will tend to think it is impossible. When the unlikely happens, they are more likely to blame you (or your mathematical model) than their leap of logic.

In insurance, we hear about it when a flood encroaches a 500-year floodplain or a 1-in-250 year storm hits.

It is one of the biggest challenges we face in helping to create a more resilient world – convincing people that what is unlikely today is inevitable someday.


Drivers, beware – perdiddle alert!


These are the longest nights of the year, so here’s a driving tip: check the headlights on your car.

This advice comes from my mechanic, who in the course of two weeks replaced the left headlight on both our vehicles. This is the season for headlights to burn out, he said – something about a wearing out of the bulb straining the filament, which then snaps when temperatures drop.

So take a second before you drive to turn on your headlights and walk around the car. You may find a perdiddle.

Click here for more winter driving tips from the I.I.I.

I.I.I. Market Report Webinar: Protecting Small Business Against #cyberfail”

“Small businesses are an easy target,” said Steve Clarke, Vice President, Government Relations, ISO. Clarke was one of several experts describing the cyber threat small business owners face in an Insurance Information Institute webinar Dec. 11, “Protect Your Business from #cyberfail.”

Many of these enterprises are data-rich businesses, Clarke continued, pointing to how a recent study estimated 28 percent of cyber thefts occur at health care companies while another 17 percent came at financial services firms.

Other issues which arose—

Cutting down the time between when a cyber breach takes place, and when the victim notices it has happened, also known as the ‘dwell time.’

The importance of educating employees about cyber risks, and how many cyber breaches occur because a company’s employees unknowingly open emails which are part of phishing operations aimed at gaining access to a company’s computer network.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has materials on cybersecurity on its website.

Watch this webinar now.

Presentation Date
Monday, December 11, 2017


Introduction: James Lynch, Chief Actuary, Insurance Information Institute

Moderator: Marty Frappolli, Senior Director of Knowledge Resources, The Institutes

• Steve Clarke, Vice President, Government Relations, ISO
• Nick Graf, Ethical Hacker, CNA Insurance
• Donald Smith, Director of the Office of Entrepreneurship Education, Small Business Administration
• Michael Rohrs, Associate Director of Global Cyber Practice, Control Risks