Below are abstracts and links to recent articles related to coronavirus from a property and casualty insurance perspective.
One of the largest car-insurance companies in the country and a smaller Midwestern auto insurer are refunding hundreds of millions of dollars to their policyholders, citing a dramatic drop in accident claims from Americans hunkered down in their homes, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Allstate announced that it’s providing a Shelter-in-Place Payback to help its personal auto insurance customers during the pandemic.
PathogenRX, a parametric insurance policy developed by broker Marsh, Munich Re, and technology firm Metabiota, is designed to provide business interruption insurance in the event of a pandemic, Insurance Journal reports.
When the coronavirus outbreak forced the cancellation of Wimbledon it looked like game, set, and match against the All England Club. It turns out, The Times reports, that the club has insurance that covers infectious diseases and is putting together a claim potentially in excess of £100 million.
World insurers told governments on Monday that making them pay out on losses suffered due to the coronavirus that were not covered by policies risked destabilizing the insurance industry, Reuters reports.
Insurance brokers say viruses and pandemics are specific exclusions in many such policies, which are often included with standard property and casualty coverage. But whether COVID-19 is the basis for a business interruption claim remains an open question as government leaders and the plaintiffs’ bar wrestle over the issue.
COVID-19 could produce a big increase in social inflation, according to A.M. Best. The reason: expectations that businesses will sue their insurers in an attempt to access their business interruption coverage for losses relating to the coronavirus pandemic.
SARS infected 8,000 people and led to millions of dollars in business-interruption insurance claims – including a $16 million payout to a single hotel chain. As a result, The Washington Post reports, many insurers added exclusions to standard commercial policies for losses caused by viruses or bacteria.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that it will extend the grace period to renew flood insurance policies to help policyholders affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. FEMA said it would push back the grace period from 30 days to 120 days.
Florida’s property insurer of last resort, announced it will suspend cancellations and non-renewals for the next 45 days.
First responders are preparing for raging wildfires that they expect will consume thousands of acres and drive some residents from their homes in upcoming months. But this year, CNBC reports, preparations have stalled. The coronavirus pandemic has hit the country’s already strained emergency services, raising concerns over inadequate disaster relief during peak fire season.
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer has ordered the Division of Risk Management to fulfill workers’ compensation claims for frontline employees who work for the state, the Tampa Bay Times reports. But the order doesn’t include similar workers in the private sector.
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.
Triple-I recently was asked to comment on two measures now before the House Committee on Financial Services. H.R. 1756, an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, would prohibit use of credit information in underwriting or pricing auto insurance. H.R. 2684 would require the Treasury Department’s Federal Insurance Office (FIO) to annually study personal private auto insurance.
Our input is summarized below.
The insurance credit score is applied to create a rate appropriate to the customer’s riskiness. These scores help insurers avoid charging high-risk customers too little and low-risk customers too much. Every dollar of discount a person with a low score receives is offset by an extra dollar of surcharge to a person with a high score.
Introduced in the late 1980s, the scores have been studied numerous times and found to be a powerful predictor of the likelihood a consumer will become involved in an accident. Concerns have been raised that the scores act as a proxy for income – a variable insurers are banned from using. Recent research finds that this isn’t the case.
Most recently, in 2019 Triple-I and the Casualty Actuarial Society produced a white paper “Insurance Rating Variables: What They Are And Why They Matter” that explains how actuaries rigorously study variables for their effectiveness and impact on the societal goal of keeping insurance available and affordable.
Under H.R. 2684, it appears FIO would be required to annually gather premiums charged and quoted from insurers that write personal auto coverage, along with rating factors, underwriting guidelines, and any information used to compile them.
This would be an enormous undertaking. There are more than 250 million private vehicles in the United States – 87 percent of them insured. But the dataset would be much larger. The proposal also asks for every quote issued to policyholders and other applicants. Each renewal policy gets at least one quote – the renewal at existing terms. Anyone who shops for insurance receives more.
Once the information is collected, the bill would require the release of each insurer’s data, rating algorithms, and underwriting guidelines to the public – including the insurer’s competitors. This would be like requiring a drug manufacturer to give up all its patents annually. Insurers would have no incentive to innovate to find, for example, variables that do a better job than the current ones because, once discovered, the variables would have to be turned over to competitors.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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).
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):
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:
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?
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).