Auto insurance rates declined in 2020 for the first time in a decade, according to a recent survey by ValuePenguin.com. The survey results anticipate a 1.7 percent decline nationally.
A major factor in the decline are the pandemic-related discounts granted by insurers in 2020. These discounts have been valued at $14 billion, according to Triple-I estimates. Triple-I Chief Actuary James Lynch reported that many auto insurers are building these discounts into rates for 2021 and that driving declined by as much as 50 percent during spring lockdowns.
The estimate of just how much rates are declining depends on the metrics you use. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) report for December 2020 indicates that auto insurance rates declined by 4.8 percent nationwide compared with the same month last year. By contrast, the CPI showed the cost of new vehicles rising by 2 percent in December and by 0.5 percent for the full year 2020.
A comprehensive July 2018 assessment of the Missouri auto insurance market by the state’s Department of Insurance discovered even larger declines. It found that, when adjusted for inflation, the typical Missouri driver has seen a 17 percent decrease in auto insurance premiums since 1998.
So far, the impact of COVID-19 on workers compensation has not been as great as first feared. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) reported that as of the second quarter 2020, out of every 100,000 active workers comp claims, COVID-19 medical claims accounted for only about 200, depending on the jurisdiction.
Still, the pandemic presents uncertainties and concerns for workers compensation, just as it does for many other sectors.
NCCI’s annual survey found that COVID-19 was the top concern of workers compensation executives going into 2021. Executives worry about uncertainty surrounding the duration of the pandemic, the size and number of claims that could develop, recovery time for workers sickened by COVID-19 and whether there would be long-term needs or lasting adverse effects.
Executives also mentioned state compensability presumptions that have arisen during the pandemic. These presumption rules, passed by various states, say that COVID-19 infections in certain workers are presumed to be work-related and covered under workers compensation. This presumption places the burden on the employer and insurer to prove that the infection was not work-related making it easier for those workers to file successful claims.
The executives surveyed by the NCCI expressed concern about the variations developing across states and the complexity of legislation and regulations that adds to the challenge of the rapidly evolving environment. Several noted issues and questions related to reinsurance for presumptive claims. Others are anticipating that compensability presumptions for contagious diseases, such as those instituted for COVID-19, will be widely adopted and permanently enacted or even expanded, in some cases, to include other common diseases.
In many states, immigrants are eligible for workers compensation benefits regardless of their legal status. A recent blog post by a legal expert showed how a decision by the Supreme Court of Nevada reiterated that the state’s workers’ compensation statutes clearly and unambiguously protected every person in the service of an employer, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed. The high court affirmed the judgment of the state district court that denied judicial review to an appeals officer’s decision awarding permanent total disability benefits to an undocumented worker.
Triple-I also offers these tips to help make sure everyone is safe and injury-free this holiday season.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there are approximately 200 decorating-related injuries each day during the holiday season, with about half involving falls. During the 2018 holiday season, 17,500 people were treated in emergency rooms due to holiday decorating-related injuries, with six deaths associated with holiday season decorations in 2019.
Our Tips: Choose the correct type of ladder for hanging lights, making sure they are indoor lights for indoors or outdoor lights for outdoors; do not nail, tack, or stress wiring when hanging lights; and keep plugs off the ground and removed from puddles and snow.
Christmas trees are involved in about 200 home fires per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Home Christmas tree fires caused an average of six deaths, 16 injuries*, and $14.8 million in direct property damage annually from 2011 to 2015.
Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 40 percent of the home Christmas tree structure fires. About 26 percent occurred because some type of heat source was too close to the tree. Decorative lights were involved in 18 percent of these incidents.
Eight percent of home Christmas tree fires were started by candles, which are another major fire hazard. The top three days for home candle fires were Christmas, New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve, according to the NFPA.
However, cooking fires remain the number one cause of residential fires, an average of 1,700 cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving Day each year. Christmas day and Christmas eve are also peak times for cooking related fires.
Our Tips: Do not leave cooking food unattended and keep children away from the cooking area; keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn; blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed; be careful if someone in the household is using oxygen; and keep candles away from children.
Although giving toys as presents during this season should be celebrated, there are also risks associated with them. According to a CPSC study from 2019, there were approximately 162,700 toy-related, emergency department-treated injuries and 14 deaths of children under 15 years old, with most related to choking on small parts, like small balls and small toy parts and riding toys.
Our tips: Choose toys in the appropriate age range, with toys with small parts not given to children under three and toys that must be plugged into an electrical outlet not gifted for children under 10; and be aware of toy recalls. Non-motorized scooters in particular are associated with a high rate of accidents, though that has been declining.
We also remind you to keep your home heated to at least 65 degrees, let hot and cold faucets drip to prevent freezing and to keep your fireplace flue closed when it is not being used.
*These do not include firefighter deaths and injuries which are recorded separately by the NFPA.
Work from home arrangements necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic are predicted to become permanent for some employees as companies like Google contemplate ‘hybrid models‘ with more flexible work options.
And though remote work is nothing new, an increase in the numbers of people working from home in the coming post-pandemic years is bound to lead to some thorny workers compensation questions.
In a recent report called “Digital Business Accelerated,” which examines digital transformation trends that small and mid-sized businesses are pursuing, Chubb pointed out that makeshift home offices that don’t properly address ergonomic best practices may lead to an increase in long-term injuries.
Relaxed work habits and environmental inconsistencies in air quality and lighting can also affect the overall wellbeing and performance of employees. And the risk of slips and falls remains in the home, just as it does in the office, said the report.
An injury or illness that occurs while an employee is working at home will be considered work-related if it occurs while the employee is performing work for pay or compensation in the home, and the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting, according to OSHA.
For example, OSHA goes on to say, if an employee drops a box of work documents and injures his or her foot, the case is considered work-related. If an employee is injured because he or she trips on the family dog while rushing to answer a work phone call, the case is not considered work-related. If an employee working at home is electrocuted because of faulty home wiring, the injury is not considered work-related.
There’s a lot of ambiguity around such claims.
“It is much more difficult to prove that an injury was work-related because there is usually less evidence available in these home office scenarios,” said Gary L. Wickert, an insurance trial lawyer, in a Claims Journal article. “An accident at a business or job site may have witnesses or be caught on security footage. Work at home employees often are all by themselves while they work, so there is often no one present to corroborate a sudden injury or accident or to help determine the precise conditions of the injury.”
Holding a third party responsible (subrogation) for an accident also becomes more complicated in cases of at home injuries.
“When the employee is injured in their home, subrogation targets tend to shrivel up and blow away,” said Wickert. “If an employee is injured at home or while taking kids to the daycare prior to, during, or after the workday… A subrogated carrier cannot sue the employee in the name of the employee – neither can the employee,” he said.
Employers and workers also need to be aware of mental health issues which can develop. Though many tout the mental health benefits of working remotely, others find that remote work leads to anxiety, depression and burnout. The Center for Workplace Mental Health has suggestions for workers that include exercise and keeping a regular schedule, as well as for employers, which includes staying connected and recognizing the impact of isolation.
More people died in New York City automobile accidents in 2020 than in 2019, despite greatly reduced driving as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic slowdown. The local trend is consistent with broader ones recently referenced by Triple-I senior vice president and chief actuary James Lynch.
As of this morning’s reporting on WNYC, 227 people had died in car-related accidents this year in New York City, compared with 203 by this time last year. This increase appears to be due to more speeding and reckless driving, as documented by a doubling of speeding tickets in 2020, from more than 2 million to 4 million.
Similar trends are reported in other states. In Minnesota, 372 fatal accidents have been reported, compared with 346 this time last year. Wisconsin reported a 7.4 percent increase in auto fatalities.
During the first six months of 2020, Colorado’s traffic deaths rose just by just 1 percent from the same period in 2019 – but the fatality rate per vehicle mile traveled rose by 20 percent.
Nationally, Triple-I’s Lynch said, “mileage driven this year is down 12 percent, but traffic fatalities are up 4 percent. The concern is that frequency patterns will return to the norm, but fast driving will keep claim severity high, putting upward pressure on rates.”
WNYC’s Steven Nessen reported some good news with respect to pedestrian deaths in New York, which are down to 93 from 108 this time last year.
“If the city can keep it up, this may end up being the safest year for pedestrian deaths since Mayor DeBlasio took office,” Nessen said.
Nessen also noted that deaths of bicyclists in New York City were little changed in 2020 – notable because bicycle use has increased dramatically this year – and that reckless drivers “seem mostly to be killing themselves by hitting medians or trees.”
“Where we see a big jump in numbers is in motorcycle deaths,” he continued. “Those numbers nearly doubled this year, to forty-seven.”
This isn’t surprising, given that motorcycle fatalities – per vehicle miles traveled – occur nearly 27 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities in crashes.
Parametric insurance appears to have received increased interest in 2020.
A recent Artemis article says growing awareness of and demand for these products seems to be driven by this year’s pandemic-related volatility as insurers and insureds “are increasingly focused on solutions that can rapidly deliver cash and enable better business continuity.”
According to the article, Aon’s Innovation and Solutions team has seen “a dramatic increase” in the number of clients seeking to understand how they might supplement or replace existing risk-transfer program with parametric structures “to potentially improve cashflow following a loss event.”
Unlike traditional indemnity insurance, parametric structures cover risks without the complications of sending adjusters to assess damage after an event. Instead of paying for damage that has occurred, it pays out if certain agreed-upon conditions are met – for example, a specific wind speed or earthquake magnitude in a particular area. If coverage is triggered, a payment is made, regardless of damage.
Speed of payment and reduced administration costs can ease the burden on both insurers and policyholders. Alone, or as part of a package including indemnity coverage, parametric insurance can provide liquidity that businesses and communities need for post-catastrophe resilience.
Aon told Artemis about a U.S.-based telecommunications company that replaced its entire traditional property indemnity insurance program with a $300 million parametric hurricane insurance solution. Artemis says such deals are increasingly coming to market, “with reports of a number of large transactions in the hundreds of millions of dollars this year, as parametric triggers are increasingly embedded within large corporate risk transfer programs.”
Anticipation that a COVID-19 vaccine – combined with social distancing, mask wearing, and other protective measures – may soon lead to increased travel revives our need to think about travel insurance.
Even before COVID-19, travel insurance purchases were on the rise, but primarily for trip cancellation coverage – the very product that wound up disappointing many who had their holiday plans disrupted by the virus. Most policies exclude pandemics or fear of travel, which made them practically useless after the outbreak.
Pandemic risk wasn’t on many travelers’ radar screens before the coronavirus struck – any more than the many common illness, injuries, or causes of death that ought to have prompted them to add medical and medical evacuation to their travel coverage. A report by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTIA) last year found Americans spent nearly 41 percent more on travel insurance in 2018 than in 2016. However, trip cancellation/interruption coverage accounted for nearly 90 percent of the benefits purchased. Medical and medical evacuation accounted for just over 6 percent.
People don’t want to think about illness, injury, or death when planning a pleasure trip – still less pay to mitigate an improbable (at the time) threat like a global pandemic.
Travelers who wanted to cover all their bases could have purchased cancel for any reason (CFAR) coverage, which provides some reimbursement (usually 50 to 75 percent) if you cancel, no matter what reason. Before the pandemic, CFAR would have cost 40 to 60 percent more than a standard travel insurance policy. It may be even more expensive now.
Airlines offering COVID-19 coverage
Some airlines have begun offering COVID-19 coverage. This week, Cathay Pacific announced that it is providing free coverage to all passengers.
“Customers who fly with Cathay Pacific from Dec. 7 to Feb. 28, 2021 will be covered for medical expenses related to a COVID-19 diagnosis incurred while overseas,” Insurance Journal reports. “The free cover will be automatically applied when customers book their flights.”
Air Canada recently announced that members of its Aeroplan affinity program making eligible new bookings originating in Canada will receive COVID-19 emergency medical and quarantine insurance. Emirates introduced a similar program in July that it says is free of charge and covers all passengers flying to any destination in any aircraft. The airline recently announced that it has expanded the coverage, adding new features from December 1.
It’s not surprising to see airlines incorporating a COVID-19 “value add” to help boost bookings by an anxious public, and it will be interesting to watch this new business scheme play out. But, lest eager travelers forget, more routine risks that you probably weren’t insuring against before pandemic remain.
Falls, crashes, and drownings
“Globally, an estimated 37 million unintentional falls requiring medical treatment occur each year” write researchers in the journal Injury Epidemiology, citing 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) data. And falls aren’t the most common cause of injury and death on vacation. Research indicates the top two causes of death are automobile accidents and drownings.
Out of the one billion tourists traveling globally each year, it is estimated that 30 to 50 percent are either injured or become ill while traveling abroad.
Don’t let yourself be blindsided by hazards that can be easily avoided or mitigated. Understand the risks your travel plans may entail and insure against them appropriately.
It’s become commonplace to say COVID-19 has “changed everything” and that we’re now figuring out how to live within “the new normal.” But listening to five experts in yesterday’s Resilience Town Hall, I was repeatedly struck by how much 2020 – with its pandemic and record-breaking hurricanes, wildfires, and civil unrest – has uncovered holes in our “old normal” existence that have long needed fixing.
“Disasters can and will happen,” said Carlos Castillo, chief development officer at Tidal Basin Group, who previously led resilience efforts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “The challenge is for people to recognize that they can happen to them and there are things they can do about them.”
Castillo spoke about FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. In 2020, BRIC made $500 million available on a competitive basis for disaster mitigation programs. While that amount won’t solve the nation’s disaster worries, Castillo said, the idea was to encourage public and private entities to provide matching funds for efforts that would make a real difference.
COVID-19 has made even more federal money available to states and localities and spurred projects that might not be obviously pandemic-related at first glance. Castillo cited one state that is applying for federal funds to fix its roadways to improve access to healthcare facilities. Such improvements would benefit the state and its people not just during a pandemic but in all kinds of emergencies.
This matters because, as Castillo put it, “the pandemic has shown us the importance of our logistics systems. Suddenly, everybody’s competing for masks, gowns, gloves, and respirators. It’s a matter of life or death.”
Public-private collaboration was a prominent theme. Rich Sorkin, CEO and cofounder of data and analytics company Jupiter Intelligence, said that only three years ago resilience was “almost the exclusive province of the public sector.”
But by the start of 2020, he said, climate change and its impacts were among the top priorities identified by many commercial entities, “especially in financial services.”
COVID-19 interrupted that immediate focus.
“Executives were distracted dealing with disruptions in their own internal workflows and with changes in the economy,” Sorkin said. Nevertheless, he noted several positive developments, including BRIC and the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment – an effort by insurers, investors, asset managers, analytics firms, and regulators to understand the return on investment in resilience and communicating it to financial markets.
Sorkin said he expects 2021 to be a “breakthrough year for the private sector from a resilience perspective.”
Richard Seline, co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub, reinforced Sorkin’s prediction, stating that “the private sector no longer leaves it to the government to be the driver of solutions.”
Dr. Michel Léonard, CBE, Triple-I vice president and senior economist, pointed out that the insurance industry has continued to provide coverage throughout 2020 on economically viable terms for consumers and businesses.
“One of the reasons we’ve been able to maintain this ecosystem,” he said, “has been our work with regulators and commissioners – and increasingly with consumers, to be able to drive behavioral change.”
Léonard and the other speakers discussed the complexity of bringing about such change – the role of regulations and incentives, the importance of data-driven decision making, and getting consumers to engage in the sort of cost-benefit analysis usually associated with professional risk managers.
“Whether it’s building codes or pre-emptive risk mitigation, it costs money,” Léonard said, “Whether it’s new construction or public or private, you have to have people ultimately say, ‘It’s worth the money’.”
He added that technology – such as telematics for cars and smart-home systems – is providing data that can support arguments for change.
Eleanor Kitzman, founder of Resolute Underwriters and a past insurance regulator for Texas and South Carolina, described the fragmentation and politicization that can make such change difficult.
“We’ve got a real lack of alignment – not among interests, because the interests are aligned – but of incentives,” she said. “I’m focused on windstorms at a residential level, but also on the impact it has on communities. These storms devastate communities, and some of them never come back. And it’s so avoidable.”
In support of Small Business Saturday, November 28, the Insurance Information Institute spotlights Chelsea Bagel, a business that has stayed resilient during the pandemic.
Deciding on your local bagel shop is a quintessential part of becoming a New Yorker. I’ve made this city my home for the past 17 years now, and it’s the first thing I do every time I move into a new neighborhood. About four years ago, I made Midtown East, Manhattan my home, and it didn’t take long for Chelsea Bagel of Tudor City to become my go-to shop.
Chelsea Bagel of Tudor City is owned by Dimitri Mikhaylov. He opened the shop and its sister restaurant, Chelsea Bagel & Café , along with his brother in 2015. Owning his own bagel shop became a dream after Dimitri invested in another coffee shop a few years prior. Never did he imagine just five years later, the world would be in a global pandemic.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were doing fine covering expenses. We had a steady flow of regular customers and high traffic from tourists. Facing the pandemic and this tough economy has been one of our biggest challenges,” says Dimitri.
In the early days of the pandemic, Dimitri had to make some difficult decisions to keep his doors open. He made reductions in staff, changed hours of operation, and withheld his own paycheck in order to pay his employees.
“The first four weeks of the pandemic, I spent a lot of my own money to meet business expenses, and I didn’t pay myself for 10 weeks,” he says. “My wife and I also had to make the decision to postpone our home mortgage for six months in order to pay for the business.”
“During that time, I thought that my business interruption insurance would have been able to help cover our losses, but after contacting my insurer, I realized pandemics are not covered. The next step was to apply for a government PPP loan.”
The small business PPP loan allowed Dimitri both to cover his expenses and hire back some staff. Since the summer, business has picked up, and he’s slowly welcoming back his regulars. There has been a 25% increase in customers in recent months compared to the start of the pandemic where business decreased by 75%.
In addition to the PPP loan, Dimitri advises that small business owners really look at their expenses to see where they can cut off spending. At the height of the pandemic, he chose to do all the buying himself, which drastically cut down the cost of goods for his shop.
“I’m hoping that the economy returns and brings customers back,” Dimitri says. “This area [New York City] relies on tourists.”
“It crossed my mind not once but many times to give up the business during all this, but hope kept me going. I have a family to feed and my employees have families to feed.”
Drivers seem to have become more comfortable in the past year with the idea of giving up their data to help insurers more accurately price their coverage.
In May 2019, mobility data and analytics firm Arity surveyed 875 licensed drivers over the age of 18 to find out how comfortable they would be having their insurance premiums adjusted based on typical telematics variables. Between 30 and 40 percent said they would be either very or extremely comfortable sharing this data.
“This time,” Arity says, “about 50 percent of drivers were comfortable with having their insurance priced based on the number of miles they drive, where they drive, and what time of day they drive, as well as distracted driving and speeding.”
This is a year-over-year increase of more than 12%. What happened?
The answer begins with a “C” and ends with a “19.”
Telematic information was part of the reason insurers could return money quickly to their customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that fact seems to have brought positive attention to usage-based insurance (UBI). Telematics combines GPS with on-board diagnostics to record and map where a car is, its condition, and how fast it’s traveling. This technology is integral to UBI, in which insurers are able to adjust premiums based on driving behavior.
During the first wave of the pandemic, Arity data showed considerable changes in how and when people were driving when they began to self-quarantine in March 2020. Driving across the U.S. dropped significantly, and this data helped spark the trend of insurance carriers offering refunds to their policyholders.
“These paybacks were widely covered by the media, including Forbes, so consumers became aware of the potential savings, even if their own insurer didn’t offer a discount,” Arity reports.
“Private-passenger auto insurers returned around $14 billion in premiums this year to the nation’s drivers as miles driven dropped dramatically in the pandemic’s early months,” says James Lynch, Triple-I’s chief actuary. “This resulted in a five percent reduction in the cost of auto insurance for the typical driver in 2020, as compared to 2019.”