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.”
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.