All posts by Jeff Dunsavage

Auto Insurance Premiums Face Downward Pressure Due to COVID-19

Stay-at-home orders and other travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have limited the number of miles being driven and have consequently put pressure on auto insurers to rebate premiums or otherwise provide offsets, S&P Global Market Intelligence reports.

While U.S. private auto direct premiums written have not declined by more than 0.3 percent on a year-over-year basis in at least the past two decades, the pandemic risks maintaining this record. Certain state regulators and auto insurers are now taking steps to give financially burdened consumers additional time to make payments.

However, the article says, those steps may not be enough as public pressure increases. The Consumer Federation of America has proposed that auto insurers provide monthly offset payments to consumers to avoid what it alleged to represent the “windfall” profits  the industry would otherwise produce.

Related:

Coronavirus takes toll on U.S. auto sales

Workers Comp
Premiums Could Soar
With COVID-19 Claims

Health-care workers and emergency responders will benefit from rules eased in some states around workers’ compensation that will allow them to collect benefits if they can prove they caught Covid-19 on the job, Bloomberg reports.

But employers need to be aware of the changing rules and be prepared for the likely end result—skyrocketing premiums.

State workers’ compensation boards around the country are amending rules for benefits payouts to include health-care workers exposed to the virus and then quarantined. Attorneys are keeping a close eye on the questions, such as who should be eligible to receive benefits, how does a worker prove they caught Covid-19 on the job, and how will an influx of successful claims affect businesses’ premiums to insurance carriers.

Some say essential workers like grocery store employees and delivery workers also should qualify.

Related:

Advisen: COVID-19 prompts a host of questions for workers compensation cover

Health Insurers Waive COVID-19 Cost Sharing

UnitedHealthcare (UHC) this week became the latest major insurer to waive members’ cost sharing for COVID-19 treatments. The health insurer said it would waive the associated costs for members in its fully insured commercial, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid plans.

UHC added that it’s working with interested self-funded employer plans to offer the same waivers.

Anthem announced similar steps, saying it would cover the cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment through May 31 for its Medicare, Medicaid, individual market and fully insured employer plans. The insurer also said it was “strongly encouraging” its self-funded employers to adopt the waivers.

Anthem has also taken other steps similar to its peers in the industry, such as waiving the cost-sharing for testing and tele-health, and easing prescription limits.

Aetna, Cigna and Humana all previously announced they would waive members’ cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment. These insurers also waived copayments and other cost-sharing for testing and telehealth visits.

Regional health plans are taking similar steps. Florida Blue announced Tuesday it would waive cost-sharing for treatment, as did Harvard Pilgrim Health Plan.

P/C Insurance Group Puts Price Tag on Coronavirus Business Interruption

An Insurance Journal article estimates that business interruption losses from the coronavirus just for small businesses in the U.S. could be as much as $383 billion per month, or 50 percent of the total available for the industry to pay all claims.

According to American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA), that is 10 times the most claims ever handled by the industry in one year. The industry processed more than three million from the 2005 hurricane season that included Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and several other storms, the trade group said.

APCIA president and CEO David Sampson said the coronavirus loss estimate assumes as many as 30 million claims would be filed by small businesses that suffered losses from the pandemic.

While the industry has little business interruption coverage to offer for the pandemic, Sampson said the APCIA is willing to discuss “forward-looking answers that speed economic recovery from future pandemics” with lawmakers.

Insurers back COVID-19 fund

The Insurance Journal further reports that a coalition of 36 business groups, including the insurance sector, has sent the Trump administration and Congressional leaders a letter expressing support for a proposed COVID-19 Business and Employee Continuity and Recovery Fund, a new federal relief fund intended to help businesses and workers suffering losses from coronavirus pandemic shutdowns. The fund aims to help businesses retain and rehire workers, maintain employee benefits, and pay such operating expenses as rent. It also may provide money for payroll, lost income of sick employees, and lost business revenues.

Insurers and other businesses would help create a process for quickly reviewing and processing applications filed by companies seeking help. The relief fund would be managed by a special administrator within the Treasury.

Related:

Insurers may need 90-day-rule relief for COVID-19 premium grace periods

Battle Plays Out
Over Coronavirus
and Business Insurance

The Financial Times reports that U.S. lawmakers and lawyers are considering efforts to force insurance companies to pay claims related to the coronavirus pandemic. Congress also is debating the need for legislation to require insurers to cover costs from business interruption caused by the pandemic. U.S. insurers contend that their business interruption policies exclude coverage for pandemics and that making such coverage retroactive would cause the industry to collapse. Joseph Wayland, general counsel for the U.S. insurer Chubb, said the losses would overwhelm insurers’ ability to pay and that forcing these companies to take responsibility for risks they never underwrote nor charged for represented an existential threat. Bruce Carnegie-Brown, chair of Lloyd’s of London, agreed that such a revision to insurance contracts would jeopardize the industry.

A Wall Street Journal editorial argues that forcing costs of the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic upon insurers would cause long-term economic damage unless a federal backstop is put in place. The editorial says if business interruption insurance “can be stretched and exclusions nullified during a crisis” insurers will conclude that such coverage is not worth the risk and will drop the product.

Triple-I: Insurers are engaged in COVID-19 crisis

A Triple-I Fact Sheet, Insurers Are Engaged In the COVID-19 Crisis, outlines how the industry’s financial stability allows insurers to keep the promises made to policyholders in the event of tornadoes, hurricanes, or wildfires. It also notes how insurers are contributing to COVID-19 related charities, such as food banks and medical supplies.

“Pandemics are an extraordinary catastrophe that can impact nearly every economy in the world, so it is hard to predict and manage the risk,” said Sean Kevelighan, Triple-I CEO. “Pandemic-caused losses are excluded from standard business interruption policies because they impact all businesses, all at the same time.”


APCIA on how insurers are helping customers

David A. Sampson, president and CEO of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA), described in a statement how property/casualty insurers are working “to proactively help consumers in this time of crisis.”

Examples include temporary arrangements for:

  • Flexible payment solutions for families, individuals, and businesses;
  • Suspending premium billing for small-business insureds, such as restaurants and bars;
  • Waiving premium late fees;
  • Pausing cancellation of coverage for personal and commercial lines due to non-payment and policy expiration;
  • Wage replacement benefits for first responders and medical personnel who are quarantined;
  • Suspending personal auto exclusions for restaurant employees who are transitioning to meal delivery services using their personal auto policy as coverage;
  • Adding more online account and claims services for policyholders;
  • Shifting more resources to anti-fraud and cyber security units, in recognition that bad actors  prey on victims during times of crisis; and
  • Suspending in-person loss control visits and inspections.

On the subject of exclusions for contagious diseases in business interruption policies, the statement said:

 “If policymakers force insurers to pay for losses that are not covered under existing insurance policies, the stability of the sector could be impacted, and that could affect the ability of consumers to address everyday risks that are covered by the property casualty industry.”

It went on to say:

 “APCIA’s preliminary estimate is that business continuity losses just for small businesses with 100 or fewer employees could fall between $220-383 billion per month. The total surplus for all of the U.S. home, auto, and business insurers combined to pay all future losses is roughly only $800 billion, with the combined capital of the top business insurance underwriters representing only a fraction of that amount.”

Related articles:

New York introduces bill on pandemic-related business interruption claims

Policyholders finding out that business interruption insurance doesn’t cover coronavirus

P/C Insurers Put a Price Tag on Uncovered Coronavirus Business Interruption Losses

More coronavirus insurance cover than people think, says Lloyd’s CEO

Standard insurance for Florida businesses likely won’t cover COVID-19 losses

French Laundry restaurateur Thomas Keller sues insurer for coronavirus losses



Momentum for pandemic backstop?

Business Insurance reports that, according to sources inside the federal government, progress is being made on legislation that would provide a federal backstop for pandemic risk insurance and that a related bill could be introduced within the next 30 days. According to the sources, the bill would set up a pandemic risk insurance program that would be similar to the federal terrorism insurance program. They also report that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, is circulating a draft bill including the proposal.

Related articles:

Pandemic Risk Insurance Act – A TRIA-Inspired Model to Backstop the Business Interruption Insurance Market in Wake of COVID-19

As Business Losses Mount, Pandemic Backstop Discussions Grow

Keeping on Top
of Coronavirus
Information Overload

As quickly as the coronavirus is spreading, so is the amount of published information available to help insurers and their customers navigate this confusing environment. But separating information from misinformation and the truly useful from the merely “nice to know” can be a challenge.

As a service to our readers, Triple-I Blog is aggregating and sharing some of these resources. We’re gathering links and descriptions into blog posts like this one and have established a page on our website – COVID-19: Issues and Impacts – that categorizes the posts and makes them easier to find.


Brian Fannin, a research actuary at the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), published a paper called COVID-19: A Property/Casualty Perspective to “start the conversation about what happens next.”

The paper addresses, among others, the following questions:

  • To what extent, if any, was P/C risk underpriced?
  • Given the dramatic cessation of economic activity, what lines may have been overpriced? Was such a scenario foreseeable?
  • How will ratemaking models respond to the changes in coverage wording that will undoubtedly appear in the future?
  • How can actuaries assist in the development of viable coverages to meet new demand in the market?
  • Do actuaries have any advice about communication of risk and how best to mitigate it?

The National Council on Compensation Insurers (NCCI) has published an article COVID-19 and Workers Compensation: What You Need to Know to share its answers to questions NCCI has received regarding COVID-19 and the impact it may have on the workers comp industry.

As part of its effort to provide information on workers comp legislative activity, NCCI also monitors workers compensation-related bills in all jurisdictions and the federal government. You can follow such activity here.


On the non-P/C side, The New York Times published Coronavirus May Add Billions to the Nation’s Health Care Bill, which warns that health insurance premiums could rise as much as 40 percent next year as employers and insurers confront the additional costs associated with the pandemic.

The Times cites an analysis by Covered California that finds:

  • One-year projected costs in the national commercial market range from $34 billion to $251 billion for testing, treatment, and care specifically related to COVID-19;
  • Potential COVID-19 costs for 2020 could range from about 2 percent of premium to over 21 percent if the full first-year costs of the epidemic had been priced into the premium;
  • Health insurers are setting rates for 2021. If they must recoup 2020 costs, price for the same level of costs next year, and protect their solvency, 2021 premium increases to individuals and employers from COVID-19 alone could range from 4 percent to more than 40 percent.

Two recently published pieces provide historical comparisons of COVID-19 with the 1918 global flu pandemic:

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has published Pandemics Depress the Economy, Public Health Interventions Do Not: Evidence from the 1918 Flu, which looks at the long-term economic impact of the 1918 “Spanish Flu.” It finds that, while the decreased economic activity caused by the pandemic outlasted it by years, some societies took steps that softened the economic impact and lessened the death toll.

National Geographic has published How Some Cities Flattened the Curve During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, which shows how social distancing saved thousands of American lives during the last great pandemic. The piece includes some great data visualizations depicting how the flu played out from city to city.


Consulting firm PwC has published COVID-19: What Business Leaders Should Know that provides advice on six key areas businesses should be focusing on:

  • Crisis management and response
  • Workforce
  • Operations and supply chain
  • Finance and liquidity
  • Tax and trade
  • Strategy and brand

All of these areas are relevant to risk management and insurance.


Stay tuned – we’ll be continuing our reporting on and curation of COVID-19-specific information as long as the need for it continues.

Insurers Are “Financial
First Responders”
in COVID-19 Crisis

U.S. insurers are covering employees and employers facing exposure to COVID-19 while easing the financial burdens of their customers and communities during an extraordinary time in the nation’s history, according to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I).

“These are challenging times for insurance customers, and the industry is doing all it can to be a financial first responder. Workers compensation insurers are providing coverage to health care workers and first responders in multiple states,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “Business insurers are protecting financially the restaurants who now offer take-out and delivery services. Beyond that, insurers are extending coverage and payment relief to customers who are struggling financially.”

A Triple-I Fact Sheet, Insurers Are Engaged In the COVID-19 Crisis, outlines how the industry’s financial stability allows insurers to keep the promises made to policyholders in the event of tornadoes, hurricanes, or wildfires. The Fact Sheet also notes how insurers are contributing to COVID-19 related charities, such as food banks and medical supplies.

“Pandemics are an extraordinary catastrophe that can impact nearly every economy in the world, so it is hard to predict and manage the risk,” Kevelighan said. “Pandemic-caused losses are excluded from standard business interruption policies because they impact all businesses, all at the same time.”

Moreover, the exclusion for pandemic-caused losses has been incorporated into standard business interruption policies for years.

A standard business interruption policy typically covers a business when it incurs direct physical damage due to a covered loss, such as a windstorm or a fire. Covered business interruption policy losses—even from a hurricane or a terrorist attack—impact only a portion of the U.S. rather than the entire nation. 


RELATED LINKS:

Triple-I Presentation: The Impact of COVID-19 On P/C Insurance
Triple-I Publication: A Firm Foundation: How Insurance Supports the Economy


Triple-I Blog:

 COVID-19: Learning From History

COVID-19: A Teachable Moment for Thinking About Risk
 


The Triple-I has a full library of educational videos on its YouTube Channel. Information about Triple-I mobile apps can be found here.

Will COVID-19 Foul Up
Our Weather Forecasts?

Airlines have had to dramatically cut flight schedules due to the coronavirus pandemic, and some experts believe this has begun to hurt weather forecasting.

What?!

It turns out that forecasting models depend heavily on data collected by aircraft. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) said this week that the number of aircraft reports received worldwide declined 42 percent from March 1 to 23. In less than a month, the number of aircraft reports over Europe received and used by the ECMWF fell 65 percent.


Weather forecasting models depend heavily on data collected by aircraft. 

A 2017  American Meteorological Society study found that using aircraft observations reduced six-hour forecast errors in wind, humidity, and temperature by 15 percent to 30 percent across the United States.

This is no small matter. The more accurately experts can predict impending weather, the better prepared individuals, communities, and businesses can be. Less accurate forecasts can lead to a lack of preparation and bad weather-related decisions.  From an insurance perspective, this can result in larger claims and losses.

So, late last night, worried about yet another negative implication of coronavirus, I fired off an e-mail to Triple-I non-resident scholar Phil Klotzbach. Dr. Klotzbach is a research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. He has published over two dozen articles in peer-reviewed journals and is quoted regularly by the Weather Channel, Forbes, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. He and his team also publish an annual forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season.

True to form – and thanks, in part, to the two-hour time difference – he responded almost immediately:

 “I don't think it's going to be a huge reduction in model skill, but the ECMWF estimates that removal of all aircraft can reduce prediction ability at upper levels in the atmosphere (~30000 feet) by around 10-15% for 12-hour predictions.  Subtracting aircraft-provided information from historical model forecasts increased errors by about 3% for surface pressure. The lack of aircraft data has a greater impact on shorter-term forecasts (e.g., <1 day) than it does on longer-term forecasts (e.g., 5-7 days), although some degradation of the forecasts continues even at longer-range timescales. 

Of course, some aircraft will still be flying, and some of the loss may be mitigated by other data sources, such as additional launches of weather balloons.”

In other words, the reduction in aircraft data is likely to degrade accuracy of same-day and longer-term forecasts a bit, and some of that degradation will likely be offset by other data resources the forecasting community brings to bear.

Amid everything we need to be concerned about while dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, the reliability of weather forecasting isn’t yet at the top of the list.

States’ COVID-19 Experiences Vary
as Testing Takes Hold

Coronavirus cases in the United States surged past 55,000 on Wednesday, while the death toll has climbed past 800, with 354 recoveries, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Nearly half of those cases are in New York, which had reported more than 260 deaths as of Wednesday.

All numbers are moving targets in this fast-changing situation, both because of the rate of spread and state-by-state differences in testing.

Coronavirus update: Global cases hit 451,355 with 20,499 deaths, and New York rate of infection is accelerating  
Apple and Facebook donate face masks stockpiled for their own workers during years of wildfires in California
MarketWatch.com
Published: March 25, 2020 at 3:05 p.m. ET

Louisiana reportedly has the third-highest case load of coronavirus in the United States on a per capita basis – after New York and Washington – and the fastest growth, according to a University of Louisiana at Lafayette analysis of global data.

New Orleans emerges as next coronavirus epicenter,threatening rest of South
March 25 (Reuters) - New Orleans is on track to become the next coronavirus epicenter in the United States, dimming hopes that less densely populated and warmer-climate cities would escape the worst of the pandemic, and that summer months could see it wane.

New Orleans is a center of coronavirus. Mardi Gras could be to blame, doctors say.
NBC News
March 24, 2020, 5:11 PM EDT

Some health experts say it’s no surprise New Orleans would be hard hit after over a million people flocked to the city to celebrate Carnival for more than a month, culminating in Mardi Gras at the end of February.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has requested a Major Disaster Declaration for the state, where at least 46 people have died.

“It is still impossible to know exactly how long the COVID-19 pandemic will impact Louisiana,” the governor said, “but what we do know is that we have more cases per capita than every state, except for New York and Washington.” On Sunday, he issued a stay-at-home order to slow the rapid rise.

While some parishes appear to be unaffected, Edwards said testing just hadn’t caught up. “We shouldn’t delude ourselves. It’s in every single parish,” he said.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said New York’s order for people to stay home to curb the spread of the new coronavirus led some people to leave — and come to Florida. At a news conference, the governor said he’d spoken with President Trump about doing something about airline flights ferrying New Yorkers to Florida.

Airlines could completely shut down flights in the US as the coronavirus rages on
Business Insider
Mar 24, 2020, 11:50 AM

Nearly 80 airlines cut capacity by 100 percent over coronavirus
TheHill.com -
March 24, 2020 02:09 PM EDT

COVID-19 diagnoses continue to be made in Washington state every day, the Seattle Times reported — an indication of both the virus’ spread and of expanded testing capacity. The state Department of Health announced 248 newly confirmed cases Tuesday, bringing the state total to 2,469 cases, including 123 deaths. The bulk of Washington’s cases remain in King County, which has seen 1,277 people fall ill and 94 die.

Possibility of “ventilator triage”

Faced with more critically ill COVID-19 patients than equipment to treat them, hundreds of hospitals are mapping out how they can ration care and equipment in order to save the greatest number of patients possible.

Guidelines were provided this week to scores of hospitals around the country that include a point system that could – in extreme cases – end up determining what patients live or die.

“Priority is assigned to those most likely to be saved, and most likely to live longer,” said Dr. Scott Halpern, professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hospital Capacity Crosses Tipping Point in U.S. Coronavirus Hot Spots
Epicenters resort to patient transfers and a makeshift morgue to cope as coronavirus infections mount

The Wall Street Journal
Updated March 26, 2020 10:15 am ET

Potential employer liabilities

Decisions made in the fluid pandemic crisis could lead to liability issues in the future. Marsh & McLennan has advised employers that even well-intended actions can lead to liability claims. In particular, it advises them to keep in mind:

  • Employees who refuse to work due to a belief that their health could be in immediate danger could be considered to be engaged in protected activity under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Employers should avoid subjecting those employees to adverse action.
  • A group of employees who refuse to work because of concerns about the virus could also be considered protected under the National Labor Relations Act. Disciplinary action or termination of these employees could thus lead to an unfair labor practice claim.
  • There are no federal requirements that nonexempt (hourly) employees be paid for time not working — for example, while under an employer-mandated quarantine — nor is there a federal paid leave of absence law. But employers must be cognizant of the myriad state and local laws that bear on these issues. 

Health insurer costs and profit pressure

Managed care companies in the U.S. are likely to see elevated cost trends and more significant pressure on their profits the longer the COVID-19 pandemic continues, according to S&P Global Ratings.

S&P said in a report that the impact will depend on how far and how quickly the coronavirus spreads, as well as how many hospitalizations it causes.

“If the outbreak is mild both in terms of the infection rate as well as morbidity, the impact will be limited,” the report reads. “However, an increased spread of the virus and higher morbidity from COVID-19 could result in higher-than-expected cost trends for insurers. The claims trend will be especially affected if more patients are treated in inpatient facilities compared to lower-cost outpatient settings.”

COVID-19 Spurs Jobs
For Robots, Drones,
Other Technologies


COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm the U.S. health system in coming weeks, creating a need for remote services.

Robots, drones, and other technologies are being deployed in the fight against COVID-19, introducing new opportunities, challenges, and risks.

From “tele-health” solutions that facilitate care from a distance to robots that disinfect facilities to  drones that help manage crowds, the pandemic is spurring novel uses of existing technologies and could lead to new ones as nations, companies, and communities try to be better prepared for the next outbreak.

Telemedicine

Use of video conferencing and other forms of remote health-care delivery was developed to serve communities with few medical facilities. Today’s extreme circumstances, however, highlight its broader value.

Medicare this week said it will expand coverage for telemedicine nationwide to help seniors with health problems stay home and avoid coronavirus exposure. The virus threatens to overwhelm the U.S. health system in coming weeks, creating a need for remote services.

However, a patchwork of state-by-state regulations is slowing the advance of telemedicine.

“Oregon just rejected us because we didn’t have a facility there, and they told us to get one before we reapplied,” said James Wantuck, chief medical officer at San Francisco-based telemedicine firm PlushCare. “North Carolina, we found out, is really targeting retired doctors who previously had a license in that state, while other states like Mississippi, Colorado and Florida are making it very easy for our doctors to get licensed there.”

Over the past week, increased demand has slammed facilities that are used to serving only a few patients a day and now face backlogs.

“You can get the technology to support these astounding volumes,” said Roy Schoenberg, CEO of Boston-based telemedicine company Amwell. “But you’re very quickly getting to a point where the supply of medical services isn’t there. We need to have enough clinicians to allow us to handle that incoming volume.”

Robots

At the Wuchang field hospital in Wuhan, China – epicenter of the first coronavirus outbreak – a ward was staffed with 5G-enabled robots to help contain the contagion and alleviate the strain on human personnel.

Doctors in the United States used robot-assisted telemedicine to treat the first person in the country admitted to hospital with 2019-nCoV. In a two-bed isolated area at Providence Regional Medical Center in Washington – set up five years ago to deal with Ebola but never used – a robot equipped with a camera, microphone, and stethoscope enabled the patient consult with clinicians without direct contact.

Robots also are being used for disinfection.  Xenex robots – manufactured in San Antonio, Texas – use pulsed xenon ultraviolet-C (UVC) light to destroy pathogens. The company says its devices are being used to clean hospital rooms where there have been suspected cases of the new coronavirus. The robot can clean a room in as little as five minutes.

Los Angeles-based Dimer UVC Innovations has developed a germ-killing robot to sanitize airplanes. The robot – called GermFalcon – is being used at the Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Drones

In Spain, police are using drones to warn people to stay at home. Spain has declared a state of emergency and ordered citizens to stay indoors, apart from necessary trips, after reporting a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. BBC footage shows deserted Madrid streets policed by drones. The drones are controlled by humans who relay warnings through them via radio.

Similarly, in China drones were deployed to observe crowds and help manage traffic. People not wearing masks in public could be identified, and the drones were able to broadcast information to larger areas than regular loudspeakers. They also used thermal imaging to identify people with elevated body temperatures and were used to spray disinfectant in public areas.

Longer-term implications

Expanded use of these technologies against COVID-19 is a logical continuation of their evolution, but such advances don’t occur in a vacuum. Concerns about machines replacing human workers – especially if this outbreak ushers in a new era of “social distancing” – and about normalizing surveillance and use of drones for crowd control almost certainly will be raised.

If telemedicine gains greater traction, will cost efficiency conflict with efficacy of care?

Will internet-enabled technologies create more channels for cybercriminals to exploit?

Will greater social acceptance of technological solutions result in decreased attention to low-cost approaches to containment, like hand washing and environmental cleanliness?

Policymakers, corporate decision makers, and communities will need to address these and many other questions after this virus has been suppressed.