Category Archives: Auto Insurance

Auto Premiums Climbing;
Are They “Affordable”?

Car insurance premiums have risen steadily since 2009 at a faster pace than inflation, according to a recent paper in the Journal of Insurance Regulation.

Transportation is essential to opportunity in the United States. Cost of driving, therefore, isn’t a trivial issue.

When you hear a stat like that, what’s your instinctive response? To blame “greedy insurers” who are making money hand over fist and still aren’t satisfied? It might be, if you don’t follow insurance profitability trends. If you do, you know they’ve been losing money on auto insurance for years, despite increasing rates.

Rising rates have caused some to call for regulation to help make car insurance more affordable. Transportation is essential to opportunity in the United States, and most Americans rely on cars. Cost of driving, therefore, isn’t a trivial issue.

But the authors of the paper – Cost Trends and Affordability of Automobile Insurance in the U.S. –  found rate regulation could do more harm than good.

Frequency and severity

The year 2009 was the beginning of the end of the “Great Recession.” In a recovering economy, more people drive – to work, stores, restaurants, et cetera. More vehicles traveling more miles means more accidents and more insurance claims.

The insurance term for this is “frequency.” In addition to more cars on the road, the report finds, distracted driving due to use of digital devices may contribute to increased accident frequency.

In an improving economy, more cars are on the road. More vehicles mean more accidents and insurance claims. Distracted driving due to use of hand-held digital devices also may contribute to increased accident frequency.

Another key term is “severity” – the average cost of claims. Severity has been high for several reasons:

Safety and fuel efficiency are expensive. Cars are safer and cheaper to operate than ever before – thanks to sensors and computers and new materials, all of which are expensive to repair or replace after an accident. This affects loss costs, which are reflected in premiums.

Medical costs are on the rise – especially for hospitalization. The paper cites U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that medical and auto insurance inflation growth track closely and hospital cost inflation by far outstrips both. Since many crash victims wind up in the hospital, it’s possible these costs aren’t fully reflected in insurance rates.  The paper also cites research indicating that hospitals may charge insurers more than other payers.

Litigation and generous juries. The report doesn’t go into detail about litigation, but the trend known as “social inflation” – marked by growing jury awards and “litigation funding,” in which investors pay plaintiffs to sue large companies in return for a share in the settlement – is well documented.

These factors drive up rates as insurers seek a return that justifies risk taking and operational spending. Nevertheless, the report finds no correlation between rising rates and insurer profitability.

Cracking the affordability nut

Literature on insurance affordability is diverse, with little consensus on the key term. The paper cites research that strongly suggests aggressive rate regulation actually reduces affordability.

“When rate regulation suppresses costs for the riskiest insureds,” the study states, “average premiums, losses, and injuries increase.”

So, what might improve auto insurance affordability?

Some contributors to rising rates – such as repair costs – “should partially self-correct over time,” the paper says. Others, like medical costs and “non-economic” damages (pain and suffering awards) could be addressed through changes in personal injury protection (PIP) laws, antifraud efforts, transparency in medical pricing, or civil justice reform. Stricter “distracted driving” laws and improved enforcement of existing ones could help reduce losses and premiums.

Insurers are investing in technology and improved analytics to streamline their workflows, improve service, and bolster their bottom lines. Some are even discussing getting out of auto entirely – which, should it become a trend, would not bode well for affordability or availability.

Fish Smashes Windshield; Will Insurance Cover It?

Sometimes the blog posts just write themselves.

ABC News in North Carolina reports that a driver in the state looked up and saw a bird carrying a huge fish.

“It was one of those slow-motion moments in life. I saw the fish and I saw him drop it,” said Rhesa Walston of Beaufort, North Carolina.

The catfish smashed straight into her windshield.

It happened so quickly she didn’t have time to react.

“There was glass all over my front seat…glass on my lap,” Walston told ABC News.

After making sure her daughter in the back seat was safe, Walston contacted her family and her insurance company. Family members tracked down the fish (apparently, catfish dropped from high altitudes bounce) and took pictures to corroborate her catch.

Walston told ABC News she will have to pay the $250 deductible on her comprehensive auto policy — not a huge price for a story the family will be telling for years to come.  Animal damage is covered if you have optional comprehensive coverage. If you only have collision coverage, then you’re not covered.

The eagle could not be reached for comment.

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”.

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.

Tariffs and Auto Insurance

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

 

Thursday’s announcement of escalating tariffs on Mexico could further squeeze auto insurers by making replacement parts more expensive.

In an action to deter the flow of asylum-seekers on the southern border, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would impose escalating tariffs on all Mexican imports beginning June 10 at 5 percent, growing steadily to 25 percent on October 1, if Mexico does not comply.

A tariff effectively acts as a sales tax on goods entering the country, so it drives up the price of those goods.

The property/casualty industry has previously noted a 25 percent tariff on Chinese goods could raise collision repair costs by 2.7 percent, or $3.4 billion. China is the No. 2 exporter of auto parts to the United States – about $20 billion worth in 2018, according to data AutomotiveAftermarket.org culled from federal databases. Mexico is No. 1. It sends us nearly three times as much – $59 billion last year. Together, the two countries make up just over half the $158 billion in auto parts imported.

Even before tariffs, the rising cost of repairs is already an issue for auto insurers. A headlight assembly can easily top $1,000; a bumper with anti-crash sensors can cost $4,000 to replace, as we discuss in this presentation on auto costs.

Insurers bear the immediate impact of the tariffs. If the tariffs remain, they will have to raise rates to cover the increased cost. Tariffs on Mexico would also increase the cost of new cars, as the higher cost of components is passed through to consumers. This could slow the economy, and – since new cars generally cost more to insure than used ones – retard growth in personal auto premiums.

A specialty insurance line, political risk, provides coverage and protection against some government actions such as expropriation, regulatory risk, and restrictions on cross border trade. U.S. companies routinely use this coverage to protect against actions by foreign governments such as the impositions of import and export tariffs sizable enough to be debilitating to their operations and profitability. However, this coverage is not yet available in the domestic U.S. market.

There could be implications for the larger economy. On August 1 the economy will likely set a record for the longest continuation expansion ever recorded in the United States, but it may be is limping across that finish line. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta forecasts just 1.2 percent growth in the seasonally adjusted annual rate of real GDP for second quarter, down from 3.1 percent last quarter. Higher tariffs place a drag on the economy, the same way any tax increase would. Rescinding the tariffs could help rekindle the economy, the same way a tax decrease would.

 

 

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).

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.

Florida legislature passes AOB reform

Insurance Journal reports that 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.

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 systems richly rewards plaintiff’s attorneys and vendors when they submit inflated bills to insurance companies and then file lawsuits when those bills are disputed.

Not just a few lawsuits. Lots of lawsuits. The numbers are staggering. There were roughly 1,300 AOB lawsuits statewide in 2000. There were more than 79,000 in 2013 and more than 153,000 in 2018, a 94 percent increase in just five years.

Inflated claims and massive volumes of lawsuits have the predictable result of driving up insurance companies’ legal costs. Insurers are forced to then pass those costs on to consumers. In the study, we estimate that Florida’s auto and homeowners policyholders have paid about $2.5 billion more for insurance over the past dozen years to cover the increase in legal costs.

That doesn’t even count the billions more in excess claim settlements that are at the heart of the problem.

The new bill seeks to address the problem by reforming how AOBs can be executed and how plaintiff’s attorneys can get paid for lawsuit settlements. If signed, the bill will come into effect on July 1, 2019.

You can download our report documenting the crisis here.

Study: One third of Americans lie on auto insurance applications

Most people agree that honesty is the best policy, but when it comes to filling out insurance applications, many consumers are willing to fudge the truth to get a better rate. According to a study from finder.com, an estimated 35 million Americans have lied on an insurance application.

Almost one in three (29 percent) of the people who have lied on an insurance application have done so for car insurance. That amounts to 10.2 million Americans who were willing to lie to get the best coverage for the road.

Following car insurance, false information is most likely to appear on applications for health insurance (22 percent), life insurance (21 percent), income protection insurance (8 percent), travel insurance (7 percent), home and contents insurance (7 percent) and pet insurance (5 percent).

More men lie than women, but women are more likely than men to lie on an application in five of seven categories: health insurance, income protection insurance, travel insurance, home and contents insurance and pet insurance. Men lead women when it comes to lying on car insurance and life insurance applications.

“Taking creative liberties on your insurance application may seem like an innocent white lie, but it’s actually considered fraud, and the repercussions can be serious. If found out you may be charged a higher premium, denied a policy or even charged with fraud, requiring you to pay a fine or even do jail time,” said Finder’s consumer advocate Rachel Dix- Kessler.

There are numerous ways to save money on car insurance. The Insurance Information Institute has these tips for shopping around for the best policy.

For more information on insurance fraud click here.