New CDC Numbers Raise Concern for Health, Workers Comp Insurers

Between June and August, the CDC says, COVID-19 was most prevalent in people between the ages of 20 and 29.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week provided new data on the spread of COVID-19 that diverges sharply from past reports and is something health and workers  compensation insurance providers will want to incorporate into their claims projections.

In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC says that between June and August the virus was most prevalent in people between the ages of 20 and 29, accounting for more than 20 percent of all confirmed cases. It went on to say that “across the southern United States in June 2020, increases in percentage of positive [COVID-19] test results among adults aged 20-39 years preceded increases among those aged ≥60 years” by between four and 15 days.

Most of the workforce

“This has profound implications for claims made against health insurance and workers comp,” says Dr. Steven N. Weisbart, CLU, Triple-I’s senior vice president and chief economist. “Early in the pandemic, COVID-19 was most common among adults age 70 or older – people who are mostly retired. Now, the CDC says, more than 50 percent of confirmed cases during the referenced period were among people between 20 and 49. This is the segment of the population that makes up most of the workforce and tends to have health and life insurance.”

They also are the most mobile portion of the population, more likely than the elderly and infirm to spread the infection to co-workers, friends, and family before they know they have it.

Indicating how significant the shift has been, Weisbart points out that in May the most affected age group was still 80 and older, with a case incidence of 4.04 per 1,000 population. In August the most affected age group was 20-29 (case incidence: 4.17 per 1,000).

“By August,” Weisbart says, “the case incidence of the 80-plus group was down to 2.61 per 1,000.”

Expanded workers comp coverage

The ultimate impact of the pandemic on workers compensation is still not clear. It generally doesn’t cover illnesses like a cold or flu because they can’t be tied to the workplace. Before the pandemic, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) says, at least 18 states had policies that presumed firefighters’ and other first responders’ chronic lung or respiratory illnesses are work-related and therefore covered.

Since the pandemic, some states have extended coverage to include health care workers and other essential employees. A common approach is to amend state policy so COVID-19 infections in certain workers are presumed to be work related. This puts the burden on the employer and insurer to prove the infection was not work-related, making it easier for workers to file successful claims.

Fed’s Rate Move Portends Long-Term Challenges for P/C Insurers

Dr. Steven N. Weisbart, CLU, Triple-I Senior Vice President and Chief Economist

“The FOMC’s action will likely keep longer-term rates exceptionally low for several years more.”

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Federal Reserve Board  recently spelled out its objectives and strategies for at least the next several years—describing a financial framework they will maintain longer than the timeframe they typically describe. The length and parameters of this framework will have significant impact on the property/casualty industry.

The FOMC says it will hold short-term interest rates near zero, likely for several years—perhaps to 2023, quite possibly longer. Insurers don’t invest much in short-term instruments – to the extent that they do, it’s to have cash available to pay claims. They primarily invest in intermediate- and longer-term bonds and similar fixed-rate interest-paying instruments that provide steady income, which, together with premiums, covers claims and operating expenses. Insurers raise and lower premiums – partly in response to changes in investment income – to sustain profitable operations.

Because yields on these investments generally track short-term rates, the FOMC’s action will likely keep longer-term rates exceptionally low for several years more.

One signpost the Fed will use to decide when to raise rates is when inflation, as measured by the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) deflator, is sustained at over 2 percent such that the average inflation rate including recent years equals 2 percent. To appreciate what this means, consider Figure 1. It shows that, since 2012, the PCE deflator has been below 2% (vs. same month, prior year) most of the time. The average over this span was 1.40%. But the Fed might not go back that far to calculate its long-run average. For example, since 2017 the PCE deflator averaged 1.69%. If the deflator averages 2.4% from now through 2023, the average from 2017 through 2023 will be 2.01%.

Figure 1

Rates falling since the 1980s

Based on the FOMC’s new framework, intermediate- and longer-term interest rates will, at best, remain at their current historically depressed levels for several years. One consequence of this is that bonds insurers hold to maturity and roll over will be reinvested at lower rates than they currently yield.

Prevailing interest rates have been generally falling since the early 1980s. Figure 2 shows this decline since 2002, as proxied by the yield on constant-maturity 10-year U.S. Treasury notes (the blue line), and its effect on the portfolio yield for the P/C insurance industry over the last two decades (the gold bars).

Figure 2

P/C insurers invest mainly in bonds, but not just U.S. Treasury securities. They also invest in corporate and municipal bonds, both of which generally yield higher rates than U.S. Treasury bonds because they are riskier. Yields on corporate and municipal bonds will likely loosely track Treasury yields.

P/C insurers also receive investment income from dividends on common and preferred stock they hold. These dividends are likely to be affected by corporate profits, which might be depressed for at least as long as the current recession lasts.

A shift to shorter maturities?

How will the insurers respond to these persistent conditions? If recent behavior is any guide, they are likely to shift to shorter-maturity bonds to retain the flexibility to switch back to longer-term, higher-yielding investments when rates eventually rise again. Figure 3 shows this pattern of shortening maturities during the years since 2009 as prevailing rates fell. From 2009 to 2019, the percent of bonds with one-to-five-year maturities rose from 36% to 41%, but those with 10 or more years of maturity fell from 19% to 11%.

Figure 3

What’s notable about this strategy is that – since shorter-term bonds yield less than longer-term bonds – the shift results in an even lower portfolio yield than the industry would have achieved if maturities were unchanged over this time span. It sacrifices near-term opportunities for the flexibility to eventually seize longer-term gains.

If the insurers continue this strategy, the shift to shorter-term bonds, combined with continued low interest rates, could lead to a scenario over the next five years that looks like Figure 4, which includes 2015-2019 yields for historical context.

Figure 4

Of course, future portfolio yields might be different from this scenario. For example, insurers might realize significant capital gains or losses. The portfolio yield in 2012, for example, was nearly two percentage points above the U.S. Treasury 10-year yield that year due to realized capital gains.

On the other hand, if interest rates rise, low-yielding bonds that are available for sale would suffer unrealized capital losses, which would be a direct reduction in policyholder’s surplus.

In a typical year the industry posts capital gains of $5 billion to $10 billion, but any number outside this range would affect the portfolio yield for that year. Capital losses also could result from investments affected by bankruptcies or other business setbacks caused by the recession. Impaired bonds would have to be accounted for on the balance sheet.

U.K. Ruling’s Impact
on U.S. Insurance Cases: Little to None

The U.K. High Court last week issued a ruling involving business-interruption claims against policies issued by eight insurers. Jason Schupp of the Centers for Better Insurance says the ruling is a “mixed bag” for U.K. insurers and policyholders and has little relevance for their U.S. counterparts.

In the U.K. case, Schupp writes, “the fundamental theme running through the insurers’ defense was that the policies only covered localized outbreaks, not global pandemics.”

“More to the point for U.S. property/casualty insurers,” says Michael Menapace, a professor of insurance law at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a Triple-I non-resident scholar, the U.K. case involved disease coverage – “an affirmative coverage not included in most U.S. commercial property policies.”

 U.S. business interruption disputes so far have turned on two key policy features:

  • U.S. business-interruption coverage almost always requires property damage to trigger a payout.
  • Nearly all U.S. COVID-19-related court cases have involved policies that specifically exclude viruses.

“The U.K. court did not address either the question of property damage or the applicability of a virus exclusion,” Schupp writes.

As Menapace put it in a recent blog post about U.S. business-interruption cases, “Policy language controls whether COVID-19 interruptions are covered…. The threshold issue [for U.S. insurers] will be whether the insureds can prove their business losses are caused by ‘physical damage to property’.”

Virtual Discussion: Responding to Disaster During a Crisis

On September 24 a virtual discussion hosted by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Advisory Committee will inform community leaders about how new science and technology applications are enhancing resilience and protecting lifeline systems and networks.

During the discussion experts will describe how technologies can inform risk-based decision-making in areas of neighborhood health monitoring, supply chains, evacuation planning, crisis communications, and information sharing among frontline responders. Innovation in predictive analytics, modeling and simulation, and mobility offer new solutions to tackle immediate challenges and prepare for emerging threats.

The panel will also cover how new public-private partnerships are accelerating new solutions and business models to prepare for day-to-day emergencies.

The discussion will include Michel Léonard, PhD, CBE, Vice President & Senior Economist, Insurance Information Institute; and Richard Seline, Managing Director, ResilientH20Partners.

About the virtual discussion:

September 24, 2020. 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. ET

Click here to register.

Speakers:

David Maurstad, Deputy Associate Administrator, FEMA

Duane Caneva, Chief Medical Officer, DHS Countering WMD Office

Ted Smith, Ph.D., Wastewater Based Epidemiology, Professor of Environmental Medicine, University of Louisville and Advisor to Louisville Mayor, Greg Fischer

Catherine Cross, Deputy Under Secretary, DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T)

David Corman, Program Director, Cyber-Physical Systems and Smart and Connected Communities, National Science Foundation

Richard Seline, Executive Director, Accelerate H2O, Houston, Texas

Michel Léonard, Vice President and Senior Economist, Insurance Information Institute

Moderator: David Alexander, Director of Resilience Research and Partnerships, DHS S&T

The Insurance Information Institute’s Resilience Accelerator was created to build awareness and adoption of insurance as a frontline defense against the impact of extreme weather events on households, businesses and communities.

Small businesses share how they prep for and successfully recover from disaster

Young startup coffee cafe owener open and welcome customer. New small business owener.

September is National Preparedness Month, and this years’ theme of “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today” could not be more timely as many areas of the country experience record-breaking wildfires and storms.

On September 16, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) conducted a live webinar on how to prepare for severe weather, COVID-19 interruptions, and other forms of disaster that can have significant impacts on small businesses.

A recording of the webinar is available here.

The webinar showcased two small businesses’ stories of preparation and recovery from disaster. The webinar also covered what small business loans are available after a disaster, what tools are available to help businesses prepare, and what you need to know about insurance coverage.

Alex Contreras, Director of the Office of Preparedness, Communication and Coordination in the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance (ODA), was the first speaker. The SBA offers low-interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes, as well as to homeowners and renters. These loans are the primary source of federal assistance to help private property owners pay for disaster losses not covered by insurance.  Borrowers are required to obtain and maintain appropriate insurance as a condition of most loans.

The SBA can also fund disaster mitigation efforts, such as installing fire-rated roofs, elevating structures to protect from flooding or relocating out of flood zones.

Janice Jucker, co-owner at Three Brothers Bakery in Houston, TX is the  2018 Phoenix Award Winner for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery. After Hurricane Harvey, the bakery had five feet of water. Thanks to a business recovery plan, the business was fully operational after six weeks.

Part of an effective recovery plan is building a recovery team that includes a restoration company (find one now, don’t wait) an accountant, a contractor, an SBA loan officer and an insurance agent. Another important recovery team member is your local lawmaker – know who they are and make sure they know you, regardless of whether you agree with their politics. They can play a key part in making sure you get what you need to recover from a disaster.

Gail Moraton, business resiliency manager at IBHS, talked about the free business continuity planning tool called OFB-EZ (Open for Business E-Z) available from the IBHS.  The first step to planning is to know your risk – both the likelihood of each type of disaster for your location and the amount of damage it could cause your business. Another step is having an up-to-date list of all your employees, vendors and other important contacts. A training exercise is also included with the planning tool.

Alison Bishop, internal operations manager at Spry Health Inc., talked about her company’s use of OFB-EZ. “It takes an overwhelming concept and makes it accessible and achievable,” she said.

Loretta Worters – vice president, media relations at Triple-I, went over different business insurance coverages that are available and pointed out that having the right coverage is a crucial part of disaster recovery, as well as an essential element of an overall business plan.

Like the other speakers, Ms. Worters said having a thorough inventory of all your business assets is of paramount importance. She listed different types of business policies that are available, including: property, business income interruption, extra expense, flood and civil authority. Separate coverage is also available for items that are frequently damaged in a storm, such as fences and awnings.

Click here to listen to a recording of the webinar, which offers many more useful tips for seeing your business through a disaster.

Tropical Storm Beta Moves Toward Texas Coast

The outer bands of Tropical Storm Beta are lashing the Texas coast but official landfall is forecast to be late this evening. Beta is also bringing tropical storm conditions to parts of the southwestern Louisiana coast where 2 to 4 feet of storm surge is possible.

The storm is going to bring heavy rainfall to areas that were hit by Hurricane Laura.

High tide on Tuesday could bring “life-threatening storm surge” in areas of Texas and Louisiana, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). “Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions,” NHC said. “Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials.”

The storm could also create tornadoes near the middle-to-upper Texas coast or the southwestern Louisiana coast, NHC said.

Please click on the links below for Triple-I’s hurricane preparedness guides:

Earthquake Country Alliance’s Minimize Financial Hardship Webinar

The Earthquake Country Alliance will host a webinar on how to be financially prepared for an earthquake as part of its Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety series.

The webinar will focus on Step 4 – Minimize Financial Hardship. It will include tips on organizing important documents, strengthening your property and insurance. Experts listed below will discuss each of these elements, along with “live” demonstrations.

Date:   Wednesday, September 23, 2020 Time: 11am – 12pm PDT 

Presenters:

  • Janet Ruiz (Director – Strategic Communications, Insurance Information Institute)
  • Dante Randazzo (Federal Preparedness Coordinator, FEMA Region 9)
  • Janiele Maffei (Chief Mitigation Officer, California Earthquake Authority)
  • Glenn Pomeroy (Chief Executive Officer, California Earthquake Authority)
  • Randy Braverman (Project Manager Earthquake Brace + Bolt Program, Safe-T-Proof)
  • Tim Kaucher (Engineering Manager Southwestern U.S., Simpson Strong-Tie)

Register to attend

You can view recordings, presentations, and other resources for previous webinars:

Step 1 – Secure Your Space

Step 2 – Plan to Be Safe

Step 3 – Organize Disaster Supplies

If It Can Rain, It Can Flood: Buy Flood Insurance

Rivers swollen by Hurricane Sally’s rains have devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama, and the storm’s remnants are forecast to spread the flooding to Georgia and the Carolinas.

Many of the properties damaged will doubtless be found to be uninsured, compounding homeowners’ misery.

A well-known coverage gap

The flood insurance protection gap has been well documented. A recent Triple-I paper –  Hurricane Season: More Than Just Wind and Water – states that “about 90 percent of all natural disasters in the United States involve flooding” and cites experts strenuously urging everyone to buy flood insurance.

“Any home can flood,” says Dan Kaniewski — managing director for public sector innovation at Marsh & McLennan and former deputy administrator for resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Even if you’re well outside a floodplain…. Get flood insurance. Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter or a business — get flood insurance.”

Dr. Rick Knabb — on-air hurricane expert for the Weather Channel, speaking at Triple-I’s 2019 Joint Industry Forum — is similarly emphatic.

“If it can rain where you live,” he said, “it can flood where you live.”

Despite such warnings, even in designated flood zones, the protection gap remains large. A McKinsey & Co. analysis of flood insurance purchase rates in areas most affected by three Category 4 hurricanes that made landfall in the United States — Harvey, Irma, and Maria — found that as many as 80 percent of homeowners in Texas, 60 percent in Florida, and 99 percent in Puerto Rico lacked flood insurance.

To make matters worse, a recent analysis by the nonprofit First Street Foundation found the United States to be woefully underprepared for damaging floods. The report identified “around 1.7 times the number of properties as having substantial risk,” compared with FEMA’s designation.

“This equates to a total of 14.6 million properties across the country at substantial risk, of which 5.9 million property owners are currently unaware of or underestimating the risk they face,” the foundation says.

A more recent Triple-I analysis, conducted in advance of Hurricane Sally, found that flood insurance purchase rates in the counties most likely to be affected by the storm were “remarkably low.”

“In Taylor County, Ga., for example, just 0.09 percent of properties are insured against flooding,” Triple-I wrote.

NOT covered by homeowners insurance

Flood damage is excluded under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. However, flood coverage is available as a separate policy from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), administered by FEMA, and from a growing number of private insurers, thanks to sophisticated flood models that have made insurers more comfortable writing this once “untouchable” risk.

Invest in resilience

If it seems as if you’ve heard me beat this drum before, you’re right.  I take flood and flood insurance very personally.

After Hurricane Irene flooded my inland New Jersey basement in August 2011, destroying many irreplaceable items, it was my flood insurance that enabled me to have a French drain and two powerful pumps installed that have since kept my historically damp basement bone dry – even during Superstorm Sandy the following year.   

Poll: Homeowners Gain
in Disaster Prep; Coverage Understanding Still Lags

The 2020 Triple-I Consumer Poll found that homeowners are protecting their properties against disasters like flooding and hurricanes at a higher rate than previously reported, a welcome development as the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season got off to an early start and is expected to produce a higher-than-average number of storms.

 “The insurance industry’s focus on resilience is starting to pay dividends as more Americans recognize the very real risks their residences face from floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters,” said Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Triple-I. “There is still time to act. Hurricane Sally today became the eighth named storm to make landfall in 2020 but the Atlantic hurricane season continues through the end of November.”

However, the poll also found that greater consumer understanding on insurance coverage is still needed.

In something of a surprise, 27 percent of homeowners surveyed reported they have flood insurance, the highest level of flood coverage reported since the Triple-I began asking Americans this question in 2007. Most insurance industry and FEMA National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) sources estimate anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of U.S. residences are covered under a flood insurance policy.

It is possible a number of Triple-I Consumer Poll respondents with homeowners insurance believe they have flood coverage when they actually do not. The discrepancy between those who have flood insurance and those who think they do gives insurers an opportunity to inform their customers about the need to purchase flood insurance, either from the NFIP or a private insurer, according to the Triple-I.

In addition to floods and hurricanes, the poll looked at how Americans assessed their risks from wildfires and earthquakes and surveyed the percentage of U.S. drivers who received auto insurance premium relief this year after the pandemic reduced miles driven nationwide. 

The poll was conducted in July and is available here.

Ahead of Hurricane Sally’s Rains, Many Lack Flood Insurance

As Hurricane Sally slowly moves over the Gulf Coast in the next few days, historical flooding is predicted from rainfall for parts of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and the Carolinas.

National Weather Service published a map of areas in Gulf Coast states most at risk for flash floods. Triple-I estimated the percentage of properties in these counties that are covered by flood insurance and found that purchase rates are remarkably low in some areas.  In Taylor County, GA for example, just 0.09 percent of properties are insured against flooding.

Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies do not cover flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a growing number of private companies sell the coverage. However, NFIP policies purchased now would take 30 days to take effect. Private companies have shorter waiting periods, about 14 days.

To see our interactive map click here.

For more information on flood insurance click here.