Brokers List Legislative Priorities
You don’t have to spend your days watching C-SPAN to know that insurance issues are taking a prominent role on Capitol Hill lately.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the parochial interest [the insurance industry] holds having risen to the national priority that is the current environment,” said Joel Wood, senior vice president of government affairs for The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. “Agents have a lot of skin in the game.”
With the passage of the flood insurance bill, many agents are breathing a sigh of relief that the specter of massive rate increases won’t become a reality. However, several other pending issues could have weighty consequences for the insurance industry at large, and agents in particular.
The Affordable Care Act
“The independent agents are small business owners that are being impacted greatly by the implementation of health care reform,” said Mike Becker, executive vice president and CEO of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA).
“We’ve been incredibly loud advocates for the agent, ensuring that they’re able to participate, should they desire to do so, and they’re fairly and justly compensated for doing so, whether they’re participating in the traditional market or through an exchange,” he said.
PIA is currently asking members to find cosponsors for H.R. 2328, the Access to Professional Health Insurance Advisors Act, introduced by U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and John Barrow (D-GA), to ensure that agent compensation is not disadvantaged by implementation of the ACA.
Wood pointed out that the current political climate during mid-year elections may make it difficult to achieve much change on the legislative end, so the CIAB is focusing more on regulatory issues related to health care.
“The pieces we’ve been engaged on are with respect to issues that impact ERISA [Employee Retirement Income Security Act] with the Department of Labor, to testifying on the wellness provisions, to working with the various agencies on trying to develop the right kind of nondiscrimination rule that has yet to come forward and the auto-enrollment rules that have yet to come forward.
“There are a million moving parts on the Affordable Care Act, and we try to engage on all of that impact our clients,” Wood said.
Another issue that is top of mind for agents is renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which is set to expire at the end of the year.
“Almost every major commercial policy today has a rider on it that says that post-Dec. 31st 2014, terrorism coverage will not be in place depending upon the outcome of this debate,” Wood stated.
“It’s a product that’s not easily accessible in the private market without the terrorism risk and insurance program,” said Becker. “We support those programs and we’re going to be advocating for its passage.”
The CIAB is also focusing on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which is designed to prevent tax evasion in transactions with offshore companies.
“We have unsuccessfully argued to the IRS that we should be exempted from implementation and reporting requirements on commercial insurance transactions,” Wood said. “Now, we’re moving to the implementation side and it’s going to be a burden both on the brokers and on their clients.
“Theoretically this sounds pretty simple, but there are unanswered questions. What is Lloyd’s of London, for example? Is that one insurance company or is it 200 companies, or is it 20,000 syndicates?”
To that end, CIAB is seeking clarification within the rules so that it can become a clearinghouse to help international insurers to comply with FATCA.
One of PIA’s biggest concerns involves federal regulation of insurance.
“We don’t think that there’s any further reason for federal regulation in this sphere,” said Jon Gentile, PIA national director of federal affairs.
“The insurance industry historically has been regulated at the state level. One of the things that came out of the financial crisis was that state regulation did, in fact, work and it worked well. We just want to make sure that our members are up on the Hill letting members of Congress know that state-based regulation does work well and has been for some time.”
However, the CIAB views this issue through a different lens.
“We think that it’s almost an embarrassment that our industry’s regulation is so fragmented when it comes to international trade,” said Wood. “We’re surprised at the degree to which some state insurance regulators have taken umbrage at the obvious role, as asserted in Dodd Frank for the Federal Insurance Office, to participate in reflecting U.S. goals in global talks.
“It’s a national business,” he said. “There has been a huge amount of consolidation. All the trend lines are going further in that direction.”
Wood also said that CIAB is advocating for passage of the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Reform Act that is designed to streamline interstate insurance licensing.
“It was big disappointment on not getting it [added as a rider to] the flood legislation. Shame on us, if we can’t get that to the finish line this year,” he said.
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Buyers Beware: General Liability Outlook May be Shifting
The soothing drumbeat of “excess capital” and “soft market” to describe the general liability (GL) market is a familiar sound for brokers and buyers. Emerging GL trends, however, suggest the calm may not last.
Increasing severity of GL claims may hit some sectors like a light rain at first, if they have not already, but they could quickly feel like a pelting thunderstorm in others. A number of factors could contribute to the potential jump in GL prices for certain industry segments or exposures, possibly creating “micro” or niche hard markets in the short-term, and maybe even turning the broader market over the longer-term.
“There are trends we’re seeing that will play out slowly. Industries that carry more general liability exposure will and have been hit first and hardest, but it won’t apply across the board initially,” said David Perez, Senior Vice President and Chief Underwriting Officer, for Liberty Mutual Insurance’s National Insurance Specialty operation. “There is ample capital in the market today, which allows a poor performing account to move its policy frequently from carrier to carrier. Poorer performing classes, however, will likely face increased pricing for GL policies and a reduction in capacity.”
The good news for buyers is that they can take action today to lessen the impact these trends and the evolving market may have on their GL programs.
David Perez on the state of the GL market.
Medical and Litigation Trends Drive Severity
One factor increasing claim severity is the rising cost of health care, driven both by greater demand and by medical inflation that is growing faster than the Consumer Price index.
The impact of rising medical costs on commercial auto is well-known. Businesses with heavy transportation exposures are finding it more difficult to obtain coverage, or are paying more for it.
That same trend will impact general liability, just on a slower and more fragmented basis.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk.”
— David Perez, Senior Vice President & Chief Underwriting Officer, National Insurance Specialty, Liberty Mutual Insurance
“It takes longer for medical inflation to register through the tort system in general liability than it does in auto liability (AL) because auto claims are generally resolved more quickly,” Perez said. “But the same factors affecting severity in AL also exist in GL and as a result, it’s foreseeable that we will not only see similar severity trends in GL, but they may in fact be worse than we’ve seen in commercial auto.”
Industries with greater exposure to severity in general liability claims should be the first wave of companies to notice the impact of medical inflation.
“Medical inflation will drive up costs across the board, but sectors like construction and product manufacturing have a higher relative exposure for personal injury lawsuits.”
The impact of medical inflation on the GL market.
Beyond medical inflation, two litigation trends are increasing GL damages. First, plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking to migrate the use of life care plans—traditionally employed only for truly catastrophic injuries—to more routine claims. Perez recalled one claimant with a broken thumb and torn ligaments who sought as much as $1 million in care for the injury for the rest of his life.
Second, the number of allegations of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in GL claims is growing. It can be difficult to predict TBI outcomes initially and poor outcomes can be expensive and long tailed.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk,” notes Perez.
Changing Legal Landscape
Medical inflation and litigation trends are not the only issues impacting general liability.
Unanticipated changes in court interpretations of policy language can throw unexpected pressure on GL pricing and capacity.
Courts sometimes issue rulings interpreting policy language in a manner that expands coverage well beyond the underwriter’s original intent. Such opinions may sometimes have a retroactive effect, resulting in an immediate impact on not only open, but also closed cases in some circumstances.
Shifts in the Marketplace
In addition to facing price increases, GL brokers and buyers will be challenged by slightly shrinking capacity due to consolidation and repositioning among carriers in the marketplace. “Some major carriers have scaled back their GL writing, resulting in a migration of experienced senior management. As these executives leave, they take their GL expertise and relationships with them, resulting in fewer market leaders and less innovation,” Perez said.
“Additionally, there are new carriers coming into the business that may not have the historical GL loss data to proactively identify trends or the financial strength and experience to effectively service their GL customers and brokers. Both trends make it important for brokers and buyers to work with an insurer that is committed to the GL market and has the understanding and resources to help better manage risks impacting customers.”
Last year saw a high level of mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry. Buyers should take advantage of that disruption to re-evaluate their needs and whether their insurers are meeting them. Or better yet, anticipating them.
What’s a Buyer to Do?
Buyers—and their brokers— should look to partner with insurers that can spot emerging trends and offer creative solutions to address them proactively.
What should buyers and brokers do, given the trends facing the GL market?
“Brokers and buyers should value insurers that have not only durability and a long history in the general liability business, but also a strong risk management infrastructure,” Perez said. “Your insurer should be able to help you mitigate your specific risks, and complement that with coverage that works for you.”
Beyond robust GL claims and legal management, Liberty Mutual also provides access to one of the insurance industry’s largest risk control departments to help improve safety and mitigate both claim frequency and severity.
In addition, notes Perez, “Even if a company has a less than optimal loss history in general liability, there can be options to provide adequate coverage for that company. The key is to partner with an insurer that has the best-in-class expertise, creativity, and flexibility to make it happen.”
By working closely with their insurers to understand trends and their potential impacts, brokers and buyers can better prepare for the possible GL storm on the horizon.
To learn more about Liberty Mutual’s general liability offering, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/coverages/general-liability-insurance-policy.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.