News from the TWIA board meeting

I’ll have a fuller post later and the meeting is still in progress (in closed session), but here are the headlines thus far.

1. A TWIA board member (Alice Gannon, I believe) acknowledges that if TWIA does not get new Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber to reverse a decision of her predecessor refusing to authorize $500 million in borrowings via a Bond Anticipation Note, TWIA will not have money to pay claims promptly in the event of even a modest storm.  I do not have an exact quote, but at minute 46 of the hearing she says something to the effect of “Without the BAN, it is highly likely we would not be able to pay claims in timely fashion.” Other board commentary indicates it will take 3 to 6 months to sell post-event bonds, assuming they could be sold at all. TWIA will be meeting with Commissioner Rathgeber this Friday (June 21, 2013) to try to persuade her to reverse former Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman’s decision.

2. TWIA has acquired $1 billion in reinsurance with an attachment point of $1.7 billion.  It has the right until July 15 to increase its reinsurance to $1.25 billion but increase its attachment point of $2.2 billion.

3. As feared, TWIA’s financial condition is already having an effect. Premium finance companies are refusing to lend more than $16,000 to pay TWIA premiums. Lenders don’t want to try to bring claims for unearned premiums against an insolvent insurer.

4. TWIA actually has only $340 million in cash after having paid much of the recent $135 million Ike settlement.  It believes it will have $400 million in cash by August and through the end of the year.

5. TWIA will ask the Texas Department of Insurance to permit it to change accounting practices so that it can count the Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund on its books as its assets.  Doing so would move TWIA from being seen as having a negative surplus to perhaps having a positive surplus.

6. TWIA will not cancel over 2,000 policies that it has knowingly issued in violation of provisions of the Texas Insurance Code governing compliance with building codes.  Instead, starting in January, after this year’s hurricane season it will decline to renew such policies as they come up for renewal.  This refusal to enforce the law was the subject of sharp criticism yesterday from State Senator Larry Taylor and may give rise to claims by those assessed to pay for post-event bonds that TWIA’s exposure was unlawfully increased.

7. TWIA did not vote to consent to imposition of a receivership.

8. TWIA will not try to assess insurers based on a law that was repealed in 2009. It acknowledges that that there are “uncertainties” as to whether it has authority to do so and that actually collecting such assessments would be difficult.

Perry to Coast: No Special Session on Windstorm

It looks like the Texas Coast and the rest of Texas is going to have to live with the deeply troubled public insurance scheme now in place for windstorm risk along the Texas coast.  That’s because Texas Governor Rick Perry announced today that he will not be adding any more items to the agenda for a special session of the Texas legislature.  His decision, coupled with the inability of the Texas legislature to agree  on any sort of reform, has the potential to wreak havoc.  There is a major risk — best estimated at about 20% — that the largest insurer on the Texas coast, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association,  will fail at some point during the 2013 and 2014 hurricane seasons. Such a failure would leave policyholders with unpaid claims and consequent difficulty undertaking repairs. It would force the rest of Texas to choose between an expensive bailout that could have been avoided or forcing people on the Coast to reap the consequences of decisions sown by their political leaders that they failed vigorously enough to oppose in a sensible way.

CBS news in Dallas provides the following explanation of the decision.

Governor Rick Perry said Thursday he won’t be adding any more items to the special legislative session, noting that with just 12 days to go, there’s too little time left for lawmakers to handle a larger workload. *** Originally, the agenda only included approving new voting maps for congressional and legislative elections. But Perry this week added passing funding for major transportation infrastructure projects, mandatory life sentences for teens convicted of murder and even the thorny issue of further restricting abortion in Texas to the agenda.   “I think everything that can be added to the call has been added to the call from the standpoint of a timing issue,” he said after signing the so-called “Merry Christmas Bill,” which sailed through the Legislature and protects the rights of students and teachers to use religious greetings and symbols in public schools statewide.

This is not the post in which to assess blame, though I promise one is coming. It is, instead, a time for sadness and reflection.  What is wrong with our state and our leadership that we can not manage to fix a relatively basic problem?

Premium Finance Issues

It won’t take a major storm for the repercussions of today’s decision to be felt.  Already there are mutterings and possibly action among some insurance premium finance companies that they will not loan people money to purchase TWIA policies. The finance companies don’t want to get stuck with unpaid claims for premium refunds in the event TWIA is placed into insolvency proceedings.

Lending Issues

 

Although the band may play on for a little while longer, lenders along the coast are also going to face  a difficult reality.  Sober lenders will likely start taking a serious look at the extent to which they want to lend money on the basis of collateral (homes, businesses) that are insured on TWIA paper but that be little more than a pile of unrepaired sticks and an expensive claim in state receivership proceedings following a significant storm. And, with the failure of legislative action to correct the problem, new Texas Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber will face difficult decisions. She has to decide whether to place TWIA right now into some sort of insolvency proceedings so that its limited funds are not further siphoned off.  She also has to decide whether to reverse the decision of her predecessor to deny TWIA the ability to borrow money to raise cash.

Psychological Issues

 

And there is yet another consequence lilkely to be felt soon.  When you are uninsured or incompletely insured, it does not take an actual loss to cause great stress.  Informed people, particularly in the densely populated areas of the Texas coast such as Galveston where the affects of a TWIA insolvency are most likely to be felt, are going to lose a lot of sleep this summer.  The glimmer of hope that things would get fixed either during the regular legislative session or during a special session has just evaporated. Now, every time something enters the Gulf of Mexico, our friends on the coast with TWIA policies  have to worry not just about the emotional and financial losses that inevitably come from storm loss. They also have to be concerned about the significant possibility that their losses may not be as insured as they hoped. They have to worry that they may be living under a blue tarp (or worse) for a very long time.

Is there a ray of hope?

Only a sliver. It was important that TWIA got reinsurance that attached at a low value.  That appears to have happened.  But that (still expensive) reinsurance will do limited good if TWIA can’t sell its bonds after a storm to raise cash. If not, there will be a large gap between TWIA cash and the reinsurance. Maybe we will learn something about that possibility soon.  One of the many problems with post-event bonds as a vehicle for catastrophic risk transfer, however, is that you can’t tell for sure whether you will have enough money to pay claims until those dark days following the catastrophe.

Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman Confirmation in Doubt

Eleanor Kitzman

Eleanor Kitzman

Serious doubt exists today as to whether Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman will be confirmed by the Texas Senate.  Her name does not appear on the list of nominees set for confirmation today and today appears to be the last day on which this committee will meet.  If so, and if, as I suspect, this is a response to her actions regarding windstorm insurance in Texas, this is a major loss for Texas. I would urge the legislature to reverse course. I would urge Governor Rick Perry and other leaders to speak up and support their choice.

But before voting to confirm someone with years of experience in insurance regulation and regarded highly enough nationally to head the critical Financial Regulations Standards and Accreditation Committee of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), legislators should at least examine the alleged marks against her.

The Rap Sheet

Count 1: Aggravated truth Telling

On or about June of 2012, Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman responded to a request from state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, by stating that the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association would be unable to pay claims fully if some Category 4 or higher hurricanes hit. This utterance challenged the prevailing wisdom that everything was fine with TWIA. It challenged the cultivated illusion that investors could regard collateral or property insured by TWIA as having the same degree of security as property and collateral insured by other Texas insurers. It threatened growth on the coast.

For this heresy, Commissioner Kitzman was welcomed back to Texas by Representative J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, with a request that she be investigated byTexas Attorney General Greg Abbott for breaking Texas law. And what law might it be that criminalizes speaking the truth? Lozano said her letter may have made a “misleading representation regarding the financial condition of an insurer” or somehow violated a state pledge not to impair collection of assessments on bonds that TWIA might issue following a major hurricane. Needless to say, the investigation requested by Representative Lozano, if one was ever done by our more level headed attorney general, went absolutely nowhere because Kitzman’s speech had violated no law and done no wrong.

Commissioner Kitzman compounded this alleged wrongdoing by then saying in her response to Chairman Smithee that, if TWIA did become insolvent, the state of Texas was under no legal obligation to make up for the resulting unpaid claims of TWIA policyholders.  Never mind the fact that absolutely no one has cited any legal authority saying that Texas has an obligation to pay such debts any more than obligations to guarantee other unpaid obligations throughout the state.  Never mind the fact that the Texas Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association statute makes clear that it does not provide protection — at all — for government-created insurers. Never mind that Commissioner Kitzman is an experienced attorney and expert in insurance regulation who can read as well as anyone else and find no law creating such an obligation on the part of the State of Texas. Never mind, even, when I tell you as a professor of insurance law at a respected university that there is no such legal obligation. Commissioner Kitzman again disrupted the illusion that it was no more risky to invest on the coast of Texas than it might be to invest in El Paso or Dallas or San Antonio. And that, in certain parts of Texas, is apparently a crime or, if not, the basis for refusing to confirm an otherwise eminently qualified individual for a critical regulatory post.

But, of course, it goes beyond daring to question the assumption of security along the Texas coast or doing so just one time.

Count 2: Threatening A Trial Lawyer with reduction of fees

On or about March of 2013, Commissioner Kitzman asked the TWIA board to consider placing TWIA in receivership, the Texas equivalent of bankruptcy, following its filing of an annual report that showed that it was insolvent. Let us make clear what the consequences of such an act might be.

TWIA has been a boon to trial lawyers along the Gulf Coast.  In part because of extremely dubious adjusting practices by the Windstorm Association and, perhaps in part for other reasons, attorneys along the Texas coast have made hundreds of millions of dollars on contingency fees arising out of breach of contract, bad faith and statutory claims  against TWIA.  I am not, please note, saying there is anything wrong with this. Insurers do on occasion misbehave, perhaps particularly so, when they have not been properly capitalized. There need to be deterrents against exploitation of policyholders and there is nothing wrong with lawyers advocating zealously on behalf of their clients. And, in the interests of full disclosure, I worked at one time as an expert on behalf of one of those very plaintiffs firms evaluating what appeared to me to be inappropriate use of statistical evidence by TWIA in adjusting claims.

The key point, however, is that there are still a number of Ike claims pending.  In receivership, those claims might not be paid in full. They would have to be treated with at least some regard to future claims against an insolvent insurer. But, if those claims were not paid in full, not only would the claimants perhaps not receive perfect justice but the attorneys representing those claimants would likely suffer a commensurate reduction in their percentage interests (contingency fees) in the lawsuits. Both of those possibilities — a threat to people one has come to care about and a loss to one’s own pocketbook in the process — can make good people mad. And when those people also make hefty contributions to political campaigns, that’s almost a crime in Texas.

Moreover, consider the threat to the illusion of security compounded by going public with the idea that TWIA was insolvent, that future claimants might need to be treated fairly, and that TWIA might need to be placed into receivership.  Other Commissioners might have swept that issue under the rug or concocted ways to extract more money out of inland Texans to pay for future claims.  But not Commissioner Kitzman. By even uttering the word “receivership,” she compounded her earlier threat to the cultivated illusion of security that has fueled the addiction to continued development along the vulnerable Texas coast. Never mind that receivership might actually help TWIA recapitalize itself — indeed that is a major purpose of receivership — the public confirmation of TWIA’s desperate straits might make other lenders reluctant to lend and developers reluctant to develop on the strength of a TWIA policy.

Plea for Relief

There are, of course, other issues with Commissioner Kitzman’s tenure. Her views on balance billing rules in health insurance have stirred up controversy. And, because to my knowledge no public hearings were ever held on her appointment, we don’t know if there are issues pertaining to managerial competence or other matters. This is not a full accounting of her pros and cons.

From what I can see, however, Commissioner Kitzman has been an open and fair individual — yes one with a free market bent that one would have thought might have sold well in Texas.  She participated in creative efforts that did not constitute toadying to powerful private insurers to deconcentrate the risk now held in TWIA and get those insurers to start shouldering some of the windstorm risk but at fair prices. She’s presided over the growth in an outstanding web site that provides excellent information to consumers. She has been generous with her time to me, appearing in my insurance law class this fall to speak forthrightly with students. She’s been a leading figure nationally in insurance regulation.

I hope the Texas Senate somehow changes course and confirms her.  If not, I hope Governor Rick Perry figures out a way the State of Texas can continue to benefit from her expertise.  And, above all, I hope that legislators realize that shooting the messenger does nothing to protect the Texas coast or attract talent to critical fields in our state.

 

TWIA Board to Consider 2013 Reinsurance, Bonds

With just 30 days to go before the start of hurricane season, the Board of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) will meet tomorrow, Friday, May 3, 2013, in Austin to discuss issues critical to its survival.  Among the items on the agenda are purchases of reinsurance and attempts to sell both pre-event and post-event bonds.  Both of these items are likely to prove extremely difficult for TWIA to manage.  Not on the public agenda is any further consideration of having TWIA placed into receivership.

Reinsurance

Let’s look at the reinsurance issue first. TWIA will be receiving a presentation from its long time insurance broker, Guy Carpenter. You can get a copy of that presentation here. It’s a fascinating document. It rests on an awfully cheerful view of TWIA’s ability to sell post-event bonds.  That’s not a view shared by the Texas Insurance Commissioner or, for what it is worth, by me. It shows TWIA is considering a reinsurance purchase option that would help insurers but would hurt policyholders. And it exposes yet again the extent to which the never-ending need to purchase reinsurance created by the undercapitalization of TWIA, forces TWIA to pay extremely high rates for that protection. If one wanted Exhibit A for why TWIA should be substantially depopulated rather than propped up so it can expand, the material for this board meeting would not be a bad place to start.

WHY IS GUY CARPENTER ASSUMING REINSURANCE CAN ATTACH AT $2.3 BILLION?

The Guy Carpenter presentation proceeds on the dubious assumption that TWIA can sell post-event bonds and thus can attach as high as $2.3 billion in the funding stack.   Look at the following picture found on Slide 8. (You may need to click on it, which will cause it to zoom in).

Proposed reinsurance arrangement for 2013

Proposed reinsurance arrangement for 2013

 

Notice that it presupposes that TWIA will be able to sell $2 billion worth of Class 1, Class 2  bonds and thus explores attachment at the top of the Class 2 stack.  But this is a very strange assumption to make.  First, as the Texas Public Finance Authority and the Texas Insurance Commissioner have stated, and as seems clearly correct, TWIA will not be able to sell the full $1 billion of Class 1 bonds.  And has been discussed on this blog before, the Class 2 bonds can’t sell if the Class 1 bonds don’t sell out and the Class 2 Alternative bonds have difficulties as well. So, the whole discussion of reinsurance attaching no lower than about $2.3 billion rests on what sure looks like unwarranted optimism.

Now, to be sure, TWIA’s got a document in its packet for the meeting Friday that suggests it still thinks it can sell $500 in pre-event securities, $1 billion in Class 2 public securities and $500 million in Class 3 securities.  This document appears, however, to ignore section 2210.6136 of the Texas Insurance Code, which says that Class 2 Bonds can’t be issued unless the full $1 billion of Class 1 bonds sell out.  If the Class 1 bonds don’t fully sell, then one has to resort to the Class 2 Alternative bonds.  But as I’ve pointed out before, the Class 2 Alternative bonds may be almost as dubious as the Class 1 bonds. And the Class 3 bonds legally depend on all the Class 2 or Class 2 Alternative bonds selling out.  So, again it looks to me as if TWIA is still looking at this summer with very rosy glasses or has some interpretation of the Texas Insurance Code I don’t understand.

Note 1: There is an alternative presentation on slide 13 in which Guy Carpenter explores the possibility of the reinsurance attaching at $1.7 billion, but even this is an awfully optimistic perspective on TWIA’s ability to sell post-event bonds.

Note 2: In fairness to Guy Carpenter, there is a footnote attached to the graph stating “Actual amounts of bond tranches are subject to marketability.” Yes. But unless there’s been some miraculous turn around in TWIA’s bonding ability, this seems like the main point, rather than a footnote.

Why is Guy Carpenter not having the reinsurance attach at the top of the Class 3 bonds?

If you’ve ready my blog entry on The Curious Matter of Reinsurance Attachment, you’ll know that the TWIA board has to make a crucial tradeoff in determining where any reinsurance should attach.  Inserting the reinsurance between the Class 2 and Class 3 bonds protects insurers from assessments but buys, dollar for dollar, less protection for TWIA policyholders. Inserting the reinsurance on top of the Class 3 bonds gives policyholders more protection but increases the likelihood that insurers will have to pay.

Most of the bills pending in the legislature would prohibit TWIA from doing exactly what the Guy Carpenter presentation appears to suggest: protecting insurers from having to pay back Class 3 bonds rather than maximizing policyholder protection. Given the incredibly precarious situation facing TWIA policyholders this summer — sorry insurers — but the reinsurance should attach at the highest level possible, buying the most protection for policyholders with a provision for drop down in the event the post-event bonds can’t be sold.

The pricing of reinsurance continues to be incredibly high

The Guy Carpenter proposal suggests that TWIA is again going to have to pay through the nose for reinsurance partly as a result of it never having an adequate internal catastrophe reserve trust fund.  As I’ve spoken about on many occasions, this reinsurance trap — almost like borrowing from payday lenders to address financial vulnerability — basically insures that TWIA never escapes its poverty.

How can I say this?  Look at the models AIR and RMS provide both Guy Carpenter and TWIA.  Here’s slide 6 of the presentation.

AIR and RMS risk estimates

AIR and RMS risk estimates

If one assumes that the distribution of annual losses is a Compound Poisson distribution, with the Poisson parameter being 0.54 (as found in this scholarly article) and one assumes that the underlying distribution is a Weibull with parameters 0.42 and 177,000,000, you can generate data that matches up extremely well with that found by AIR and RMS.  If you then run, say, 10,000 years of simulations using that distribution, you find that the mean losses to an insurer who writes a maximum of  $850 million worth of coverage over a $2.3 billion retention is only about $20 million.  That is 4-5 times less than what the reinsurers are apparently proposing to charge.  And, thus, the cost of having to reinsure rather than internally finance is something like $65-$75 million per year, or about 1/6 of all TWIA’s premiums. You dont, by the way, get qualitatively different results using the three parameter Weibull distribution that I’ve used on this blog before to replicate the AIR/RMS models.

There’s a lot more that is odd about the reinsurance pricing. If we think of the price as being composed partly of expected losses and partly of having to withdraw the maximum exposure from illiquid high-earning investments and place it in low return, highly liquid investments — this is the Wharton School model — the pricing only makes sense if reinsurers lose about 7.8% on their capital by having to make it particularly liquid. ((-expectedLosses + premiums)/maxExposure). Given the market right now, that’s a pretty high number.

There are a couple of explanations between the actual pricing for reinsurance and the pricing that the models would suggest.  One, which is rather scary, is that the reinsurance market is not behaving as competitively as one would like.  The other, scary for different reasons, is that the reinsurance market doesn’t trust the AIR/RMS model and thinks the risk of a major hurricane is considerably greater.  If that’s true, however, then even the dire warnings that I  and others have been sounding about TWIA are understated.

Bonds

The Bond Anticipation Note

The other main item on the agenda appears to be the issuance of bonds.  There is a a proposal from First Southwest that TWIA sell by June 27, 2013, a “Bond Anticipation Note” for $500 million that would basically be an advance on a hoped-for similar Class 1 post-event bond. First Southwest apparently believes these unrated bonds could be sold at between 4 and 6%. My own 2 cents is that if TWIA can get this loan, it should grab it.  Increasing the amount it has to pay claims from its CRTF funds of $180 million to something like $680 million will help.  And if all it has to pay is some interest, that’s a good deal. But there’s a lot to do before this money will be available to TWIA and it looks as if it is going to have go through at least the first month of the 2013 hurricane season without it.

Post-Event Bonds

There’s also apparently a resolution on the table authorizing TWIA to asks the Texas Public Finance Authority to issue post-event bonds. I’ll confess I don’t understand this one.  There haven’t been any tropical cyclones yet in Texas for 2013.  Maybe TWIA is getting this resolution done to see what can actually done for 2013?  Maybe it is an attempt to see if things are as bad as some people have been saying?

Conclusion

The TWIA board is in a very tough spot.  With fewer than 30 days to go in the legislative session and 30 days until the start of hurricane season, it doesn’t really know what its resources are to pay claims. It’s being (understandably) threatened with receivership by the Texas Insurance Commissioner. And its existing reinsurance expires on May 31, 2013, before the start of hurricane season.  If and until TWIA gets some legislative relief or is put partly out of its misery by a Texas shift to an assigned risk plan or other mechanism that deconcentrates risk, it doesn’t have many good options. My hope is that the board will have the courage to confront its moral and legal obligation to warn policyholders in the clearest possible terms of the risks that, unless powerful legislative relief swiftly occurs, their claims will not be paid fully should a significant hurricane hit this summer.

The destructive power of legislative fantasies

While fantasies may have their place in literature or otherwise, they are an unhealthy basis on which to premise legislative hearings. By distracting legislators from the real work that needs to be done before the end of session and providing false hope to constituents who need to take real action before the start of hurricane season, they are at least as destructive as any hurricane. That’s why the Corpus Christi Caller’s account this morning of yesterday’s meeting of the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce should profoundly disturb residents of the Texas coast who depend on a viable windstorm insurance system. It should equally disturb those throughout the State of Texas whose fates are intertwined with their coastal friends. The meeting unfortunately perpetuates the absurdities of the meeting of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association board that took place on Monday in which false villains were created and the very legislators who voted for the scheme that contributes to the current deplorable state of coastal windstorm insurance attempt through distraction to escape accountability.

Let’s identify the distracting fantasies.

Fantasy 1. TWIA can escape insolvency by assessing Texas insurers in 2013 for Hurricane Ike.

We’ve been through this before on this blog but let’s do it again now that we have an idea of the opposing arguments. The statute authorizing TWIA to assess insurers under former section 2210.058 of the insurance code was repealed in 2009 by section 44(2) of HB 4409. I’ll reprint that statute at the bottom of this post so you can see for yourself. Government can’t just take people or business’ property for the purpose of enriching others, no matter how worthy the cause, based on a repealed statute.  That’s called tyranny, and it is a violation of, among other things, the same Fifth Amendment protections that prevents the state from taking your house away to pay for worthy state expenditures and the same section 17 of the Bill of Rights contained in the Texas Constitution in which our state’s belief in those same principles is enshrined.

Until Monday, I had not heard a single argument opposed to the proposition that section 2210.058 no longer justified assessments against insurers. And, until I heard the contrary arguments, I was not prepared to say with 100 percent certainty that I was correct. But in light of a letter from several state representatives submitted to the TWIA board and made public Monday and in light of Representative Eiland’s reported comments at the hearing yesterday, we now appear to know the arguments of those who would contradict this apparently evident proposition. All I can say is, “that’s your best shot?” Here’s what they are apparently saying. If there are other arguments that I am missing, bring them on.

Argument 1: The potential to assess insurers is an “obligation, or liability previously acquired, accrued, accorded, or incurred under [a repealed statute] and is thus saved from repeal by section 311.031 of the Texas Government Code.” This argument misunderstands the nature of an obligation and a liability. An obligation or liability refers to something already existing.  Thus, if State Farm did not pay an assessment already imposed prior to the repeal, HB 4409 did not eliminate the already existing powers to force State Farm to pay. But at the time when the repeal took effect, there was no “obligation,” there was no “liability” to pay an assessment based on Hurricane Ike beyond the $430 million the TWIA board did assess in 2008. The fact that TWIA might have made an assessment is no more an “obligation” or a “liability” than a tax that the legislature might have but did not impose or a penalty that a court might have but did not impose.

Argument 2: There is some sort of contractual right on the part of 2008 policyholders to an assessment. I teach contracts and I like creative arguments.  But there is no such contractual right.  I’ve looked at TWIA contracts and there is absolutely nothing in those contracts creating a right to an assessment. Zero. Would a Texas legislator please show the public a TWIA contract containing a right to an assessment.

It is particularly galling, I might add, to contend, as Representative Eiland apparently did at the hearing yesterday, that TWIA policyholders deserve such a right (even if they don’t actually have one?) because of the premium they paid. In fact, precisely because of actions by legislators such as Craig Eiland,TWIA policyholders were not asked to pay a premium that would permit their insurer to be capitalized adequately and that might have provided better protection against hurricanes such as Ike. Instead, those legislators forced TWIA policyholders to become dependent on the TWIA board — a politically constituted body significantly chosen from the insurance industry — exercising their discretion to assess Texas insurers adequately in the event of a major storm.

Now, it may (or may not) be that the TWIA board breached some sort of duty to policyholders by failing to assess. A letter sent by coastal legislators earlier this week contains a disturbing account of board inaction. Unfortunately, however, the choice not to include a right to an assessment in the contract takes the matter out of contract claims against TWIA itself and put it into the murky area of fiduciary duty claims against TWIA board members. And, with fiduciary duty rather than contract providing the source of rights, the remedies become far more limited. Yes, you can sue a board member for breach of fiduciary duty, but section 2210.106 of the Insurance Code promised those board members immunity from suit unless one can show bad faith, intentional misconduct, or gross negligence.  And even if you get over this qualified immunity hurdle, I doubt there are too many board members who have $400 million lying around, the additional amount that TWIA officials recommended be assessed to pay for Ike.

Fantasy 2. Going into receivership would make it harder for TWIA to borrow money either before a hurricane or after a hurricane.

A lot of people at the TWIA board meeting Monday testified about the terrible problems that would be created if TWIA were thrown into receivership: sending the wrong signals, threatening continued development, threatening mortgage covenants, and threatening  the Texas economy (even national security) by challenging energy production on the Eagle Ford Shale. Unfortunately, these people have confused treatment with either symptoms or disease.  It is fine to be angry about cancer, but anger at being treated for cancer after a positive test comes back is misplaced indeed. And it’s insolvency here that is causing the problems and that is going to cause more problems. Receivership is a treatment for the disease of insolvency (here a disease caused by a combination of legislative dysfunction, human greed and fallibility, and a Category 2 hurricane that hit in a particularly vulnerable spot). In fact, although perhaps the matter could be deferred for a week or two to get plans in order, receivership makes a lot of sense. It would likely, as Representative Taylor appears to recognize, actually help most TWIA policyholders.

Here’s why.

Reason 1: Without receivership, there will be even less money available to pay claims for any hurricanes that hit this season. TWIA is being picked apart by claims for Hurricane Ike that are still pending.  Projections are that, even if no serious hurricane hits, TWIA will have even less money by the time the year ends. Thus, if Tropical Storm Barry or Hurricane Rebekah hits this season, there is going to be even less money around to pay the new claimants.  This is particularly true, if, as many fear, the recapitalization structure envisioned by the current Texas Insurance Code, is not going to work and if one of the bills pending in the legislature continues not to address issues for 2013. Those whose houses are decimated this summer by a storm are very much going to wish that someone through TWIA into receivership this spring so that 2008 policyholders and 2013 policyholders were treated more equally. So equity among TWIA claimants is one good reason for a receivership.

Reason 2: The recapitalization structure envisioned by the current Insurance Code may well  be more likely to work with a receivership than without one. Someone who lends money to TWIA now has to be concerned that their claims will be paid out of the same pot as Ike claimants or other TWIA creditors. Given TWIA’s insolvency, that is worrying. It’s likely to cause lenders to demand a particularly high rate of interest if they are willing to lend at all.  Although I am not certain of this, if Texas receivership is like federal bankruptcy, post-receivership financing even in a rehabilitation case can be separated out and given a higher priority that other claims.  That appears to be true in Texas insurance liquidation (section 443.154(j)) and I would be surprised if it were not true in a rehabilitation as well. Now, if the rehabilitation failed, such a refinancing might hurt existing (Ike) claimants of TWIA, and one can see how they might oppose a cavalier refinance on that basis, but if one wants to give TWIA some hope or making it through another hurricane season, giving new lenders some additional protection makes a lot of sense.  I don’t see how that can be done absent a receivership.

Reason 3: The parade of horribles brought forth by representatives of the coast at the hearing Monday was mostly about the problems created by insolvency, not by receivership.  Mortgage companies who have imposed covenants to maintain insurance on their borrowers don’t care as much about whether the insurer is in receivership as whether that insurer has enough money to pay claims that threaten their collateral. And, yes, workers in the Eagle Ford Shale and elsewhere will be hurt if their windstorm insurance premiums go up and their corporate employers don’t respond with higher wages, but what happens to premiums is not particularly dependent on a receivership.  It is dependent on an understanding of why TWIA went insolvent and the proposals pending in Austin to reform TWIA.

At best, the argument against receivership is thatTWIA, a so-called “residual market” carrier, was not really “insolvent” in the same way a private insurer would be if its liabilities exceeded its assets. That’s because, this point proceeds, TWIA has a statutory right to recapitalize through assessment and surcharge that other insurers do not following a major disaster.  So, it is true that, at least for a while TWIA will be able to pay its bills. But inability to pay bills is not and should not be the only basis to justify a receivership.  Another reason is equal treatment of claimants.  The recapitalization mechanism was never very solid and is now so dubious that there is a serious question whether TWIA can treat current policyholders fairly.

Fantasy 3: Resolutions of the receivership issue and assessment issue are very important.

Receivership is an issue, but it is not the main issue. It will just determine at the margin how current and future TWIA claimants get paid and may have some effect on solvency this summer.  Even an assessment of another $400 million or $500 million to fully pay for Ike, though it would help current TWIA claimants, will do little to fix the most fundamental problems with that entity, which include its perpetual undercapitalization and the instability and unfairness of its funding mechanisms. Even with an assessment and with or without a receivership, the current law means that TWIA is running a very substantial risk of going insolvent this year from another serious storm. Or, in plain English, if you own property on the coast and it is hit by a tropical cyclone this summer, there is a troubling chance TWIA will not actually be able to pay what it owes you and you may have trouble rebuilding.

The main issue is how to address windstorm insurance on the coast both for the coming hurricane season and thereafter. There are two serious proposals before the legislature. One basically proposes depopulating TWIA and moving toward a market-based system backstopped by an assigned risk plan for those areas in which the market fails to provide insurance close to some affordability threshhold. Under this system, although people across Texas very definitely help, coastal policyholders bare most the burden of the risk posed to their property. Coastal propertyholders get the benefits of owning real estate near the Texas coast, but they also pay for it. The second proposal continues to force people — poor people and rich people alike, Amarillo residents, El Paso residents and Nacogdoches residents — to subsidize risk along the coast even more than has been done before. While this system at least reduces the risk of a hurricane leaving insureds with claims only against an insolvent insurer, it sends bad signals to the development market and, gallingly, frequently transfers money from the poor to the wealthy. I have my own views on how that debate should come out but respect the view of others.  I just wish it was that debate that was preoccupying the Texas legislature and not a judicial remedy for addressing the existing insolvency.

Here’s what Representative Craig Eiland reportedly said yesterday:

“I see no way you could ever say that’s there no assessment authority with TWIA based on the contractual rights the 2008 policyholders have for the premium they paid for the coverage they purchased,” he said. “Why are we dancing around the question? If we go into receivership the judge is going to assess the companies and have an answer. Why are we not trying to have an answer? Before you make the decision that we cannot assess, how about go assess and find out the final answer.”

 

Text of section 44 of HB 4409 (found here)

 SECTION 44.  The following laws are repealed:
             (1)  Subdivisions (5) and (12), Section 2210.003,
Insurance Code;
             (2)  Sections 2210.058 and 2210.059, Insurance Code;
             (3)  Sections 2210.205 and 2210.206, Insurance Code;
             (4)  Sections 2210.356, 2210.360, and 2210.363,
Insurance Code; and
             (6)  Subchapter G, Chapter 2210, Insurance Code.

Live Blog of the TWIA Meeting of March 25, 2013

I appear to have a good feed from the TWIA meeting. Right now, it just says, “waiting for presentation.”  So, if the TWIA servers hold up under what I expect will be a heavier-than-usual load and I can successfully navigate a new live blogging plug in for WordPress, I should be able to comment on this meeting as it goes on.

15.00

So, nothing happened on windstorm insurance on the floor of the Texas Senate today.  The one thing perhaps everyone could agree on is that time is running out to change anything in this regular session of the 83rd Legislature.

12.40

They are recessing until 2:15.  The Senate Business and Commerce meeting will have a meeting at Chairman Carona’s desk during the recess.  I have no idea what they will discuss.

Unfortunately, my day job is likely to prevent me from keeping even half an eye on the Senate for the next several hours, so you are all on your own for a bit.

12.20

Might be oyster and shrimp lunch time because nothing has happened on the Senate floor for quite some time.  Oh, wait. They just started up again.  But they are just reading and referring House bills to Senate committees.

11.58

Senate back considering bills, but not (yet) S.B. 1700.  The current one, on toll road conversion, is generating some actual comment.

11.31

They are into announcements rather than bill consideration.  But the chair indicates there may be additional bills to be heard today.

11.20

Senator Royce West certainly gets his colleagues’ attention by saying he was adding billion to the cost of a bill on digitizing filings in civil lawsuits.  Just kidding.

10.51

Senator Larry Taylor, sponsor of SB 1700, is now speaking, but not on Windstorm Insurance. Instead, he is talking about CSSB 1560 involving easements.

10.49

Chair says, “Members, that concludes the morning call.” Looks as if they are now taking up substantive bills.

Screenshot_5_15_13_11_46_AM

10.40

Oyster and shrimp lunch for legislators being discussed.  No Windstorm bill yet.

11.42

Senate recesses until 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 15, 2013.  Still no S.B. 1700.

11.22

Reading and referring various bills to committees.  Does this mean voting on bills out of committee is over for today?

11.03

Actual debate on the floor. Not about windstorm insurance but about the right to marry.  And not about gay marriage but about photo identification. Should one need photo identification as a prerequisite to marriage?

10.44

Not that it has anything to do with windstorm insurance, but an interesting bill for insurance junkies on subrogation rights and the “make whole doctrine”.  H.B. 1869.  I’ll have to read it.

10.35

Now calling bills for review.  So the procedure seems to be

1) Suspend regular order of business so that the bill can be considered “out of order”; Vote on this.

2) Floor amendments offered and voted on.

3) Move passage to third reading.

4) Motion to suspend the 3 day delay between second and third reading

5) Third reading of bill (just caption)

6) Motion for final passage.  Roll call vote.

10.09

Session begins.

10.01

Upbeat music now playing heralding the possible start of session.  Also, please note that due to some issue with my liveblogging software, the time stamps are an hour off.  So, if this says 10:02 I believe it means 11:02.

09.58

Nothing happening.  Various people milling around.  No sound, but I am hoping that is because the microphones are off rather than any issues with my Internet feed.

13.35

Motion to adjourn until tomorrow. Passes.  So no S.B. 1700 today. #SB1700 #TWIA

13.34

Motions being heard to suspend Senate rules to permit announcements of urgent committee meetings.  No sign of S.B. 1700.

13.31

I get the sense that if you watched this Internet broadcast for a few days you might actually understand Senate procedure pretty well.

13.26

Wow, things move fast once they get to the Senate floor.  My sense is that everything is negotiated out ahead of time off the floor.  Still no sign of S.B. 1700.  We are hearing reading and referral of various bills.

16.09

The TWIA board today decided not to decide whether to consent to a receivership, tabling the idea until its May meeting.  That leaves the ball back in the court of Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman, who can try to throw TWIA into receivership without TWIA’s consent.

A symbolic representation of the actions of TWIA's board today

A pictographic representation of the actions of TWIA’s board today

This is also the end of the live blog experiment.  It went well until my feed went out.  Next on the agenda, hearings in Austin on SB 1089 that would “fix” TWIA by placing more of the burden on people who don’t have real estate on the coast.

14.50

Alas, I must deal with reality and stop watching the blank screen.  If they’re still on when I return, I’ll live blog some more.  Otherwise, we’ll skip the play by play and go to some analysis at the end of the day.  Thanks for viewing.

14.24

While we’ve been waiting, I got a phone call from another attorney who had evidently been retained to examine the possibility of TWIA making an assessment under the old law.  Looks like that attorney, examining the issue independently, was likewise extremely dubious about making an assessment under 2210.058. #twia. Lots of hurt, but I still don’t see any cavalry coming over the hill.

14.21

No longer getting the error message and the little timer at the bottom says 2:25, so maybe my feed is back but they are still speaking to their attorneys.  Would not be surprised if this took a lot of discussion since they will basically be consenting to putting themselves out of business. #twia

14.07

Just got a tweet saying they are still in closed session.  So there is some hope that the video feed will emerge from what may be mere hibernation.  I am also advised that the audience has, quite literally, been left in the cold. #overairconditioning #twia

14.00

Still no connection to the TWIA video server.

13.45

I fear I have lost my feed of the meeting. Getting the mysterious Error 0-3222 message.

13.39

One of the matters brought up by Greg Smith of the Coastal Task Force was whether TWIA was being treated equivalently to the Texas FAIR plan, a sister government-sponsored insurance company. He contended, I believe, that the FAIR plan was likewise insolvent but was not being put into receivership.  This issue was also brought up by TWIA with TDI, but the TDI representative said she did not know if the FAIR plan was insolvent.

So, although I can’t find a 2012 financial statement on the Web for the FAIR plan (hmm?), I can find a 2011 financial. It apparently shows that the FAIR plan was million in the red. It may be, however, that TDI thought that the FAIR plan could work its way out of this negative position.  Whether that occurred, I don’t know either.

Oh. Seeing some action on the video screen for the meeting.

13.29

I just posted an excerpt of the letter from Rep. Deshotel. I now see, by the way, that the letter was signed by State Representatives Joe Deshotel (District 22), Craig Eiland (District 23), Abel Herrero (District 34), Todd Hunter (District 32), Eddie Lucio III (District 38) and Allan Ritter (District 21). This is the only thing even close to a legal argument I have found explaining how TWIA could recapitalize and avoid receivership by assessing insurers under the old statute. But, as the letter concedes, former Commissioner Geeslin did not actually say that TWIA could assess the insurance industry under the old law (although he does, I agree, come close to doing so).  But this is what good old Latin-liking lawyers call an “ipse dixit.”  That’s the fancy term for, “because I said so.”  It’s not a legal argument.  There is no evidence that former Commissioner Geeslin confronted section 44(2) of HB 4409 and had a theory for how the word “repeal” does not mean exactly what it says.  Section 2210.058 of the old law was the provision that permitted insurer assessments — and that statute was repealed four years ago in HB 4409.

Now, the more interesting question — one also raised by some of the public comment —  is whether the State Representatives are trying to set up some kind of lawsuit against someone for failure to assess adequately while the old law was in effect.  Such a lawsuit, however, is problematic in that, even if it prevails, which would likely be an uphill struggle, how is anyone going to pay a judgment?  Moreover, I suspect TWIA board members will find at least qualified immunity from suit, will be able to argue that they thought the assessment was adequate, and will question standing and duties.  Don’t count on such a lawsuit fixing TWIA ever — and certainly not in the short run. And short, in this context, means at least three hurricane seasons’ worth.

13.18

The Deshotel letter key paragraph

The Deshotel letter key paragraph

13.15

So, let’s go to the halftime report.

We need to separate out the harm caused by TWIA being insolvent from TWIA being put into receivership.  TWIA’s insolvency is a real problem in that it means, if the accountants are correct, that TWIA does not have enough money to pay claims and that it does not anticipate enough money to do so through the end of this year even if there is no significant storm. It is just fascinating that this singular fact does not appear to bother any of the speakers from the coast who came to the hearing today. Instead, the focus is on receivership.  Why? Do they think that grab law, which is the alternative to receivership, is an improvement?

The best arguments against receivership were that it might hurt the ability to obtain a Bond Anticipation Note secured by the potential for Class 1 securities being issued and that it might possibly hurt issuance of Class 2 and 3 securities. But the empirical evidence on this point is awfully thin.  It is not clear that a BAN could be issued anyway or that a post-petition receivership would hurt rather than help short term bond creditors.

The other thing that I think is clear is that the TDI Commissioner is going to act swiftly here.  She has a first mover advantage and does not need the TWIA board’s cooperation. TWIA’s board can cooperate, which might matters go more swiftly and less expensively, or it can make some short term political hay by opposition.  But what would it really accomplish except make some people who have demonized the incumbent insurance commissioner feel better in the short run?

The other matter I wonder about is seeing this as just one move in the Austin chess game about how TWIA is going to be restructured or depopulated.  Does the fact that it is in receivership help the argument to move towards an assigned risk plan as in HB 18? And maybe that is what this is all about.  If TWIA has “failed,” then the case for propping it up may look weaker and the case for going to something significantly different, a market oriented assigned risk plan may look stronger.

And, by the way, we are now on minute 10 of the 5 minute break.

13.04

TWIA goes into a closed session at 2:05. Apparently just a 5 minute break.  Except that in my experience one should add a zero to declared break times.   Anyway, we are done with Round 1.

13.03

TDI: Why is receivership in best interests in policyholders. TWIA does not have enough assets to pay its liabilities. Current claimants may not get claims paid fully. Make sure that actual damages being sustained are given priority. [Over what? Extra-contractuals?]

TDI: We are ready to move quickly in court. But stakeholders can have input through court process. File your plan and set a hearing.  At TDI, we try to be ready for all scenarios. [i.e. they are writing a plan]/

 

13.00

TWIA: Who is this rehabilitator? Why does TDI think that the rehabilitator can do a better job than this board.

TDI: Insurance Commissioner appointed as receiver but a competitive bid to find a manager. We can get someone on an interim emergency basis.  There are better statutory remedies in receivership. [Like not pay claims in full!]

12.58

TDI: Rehabilitation stays and centralizes lawsuits [just like federal bankruptcy].

TWIA: What can we assume with Class 1 bonds in designing reinsurance program. Looks encouraging that we can get a 0 million BAN to help reinsurance. But receivership would make that harder said the TPFA folks [I think I have this comment correctly] TPFA said it had offer from Bank of America, though at a higher price tag. [This is an important issue]

TDI: We would be moving in and out quickly. TDI  has concerns about ability to issue BAN anyway given negative surplus. [Darned straight].

12.55

TWIA: Effect on mortgages and covenants

TDI: Freddie and Fannie accept residual market insurance.  Ratings relate to private insurers.  [So is she saying all is well with mortgagees].

TWIA: What about residual markets in rehab.

TDI: Can’t predict what they would do. They have had conversations.

12.53

TWIA: Why now?

TDI: 4th quarter statement. Additional litigation that created a negative surplus. And no realistic opportunity to earn its way out. Rehabilitation would not inhibit vital reform measures on the table.

TWIA: Impact on reinsurance purchase? And post-event bonds?

TDI: Receivership can definitely create challenges. We will get a plan on file very quickly. Receivers can purchase reinsurance. The goal would be to get out of rehabilitation quickly. [Don’t bet on this occurring]. Work with bond market and see what we could do. [Vague]

 

12.51

TWIA: What happens to this board if TDI puts TWIA in receivership?

TDI: Board would be suspended and the rehabilitator would operate with the power of the Board. Board could be reconstituted after emergence.

TWIA: We’ve been in administrative oversight.  We have limited authority. Why the need for this board to consent?

TDI: Things move quicker when there is consent. If rehabilitation were consented to, there would be less disruption. On the same day, the AG can go to court, enter a rehabilitation application and enter a rehabilitation order almost simultaneously. We would soon have a rehabilitation plan. Fears would be quelled. If we have a contest, there will be more uncertainty and delay. At TDI, lack of disruption is important.

TWIA: A lot of the testimony we have heard today about nervousness of bankers etc. — at least there would be a plan to take care of it.

TDI: Yes.

12.48

TDI: Being back to zero balance would be enough to get it out of receivership.

TDI (Jamie Walker). Based on projections for TWIA income there will still be negative surplus at the end of this year.  And this is in case there are no “hiccups” [like a hailstorm?].

TWIA: Is the FAIR plan insolvent? It too has a negative surplus.

TDI: I don’t know.

12.46

TDI: Rates would be continued under the current statute, unless laws are specifically changed.  [TDI being very careful and lawyerly in its answers.  Lawyerly used as a positive adjective here].

TWIA: What would be the standard to get TWIA out of rehabilitation given that TWIA is not generally supposed to have surplus.

TDI: TWIA is not required to have an excess of surplus. TDI lawyer specifying basis for receivership. Insufficient assets, not an inability to pay bills.

12.43

TWIA: that paints a pretty rosy picture.  What other states did you look at?

TDI: More than 25 states have this law.  Modeled it after NAIC act.

TDI: Rehab has not been used in the residual market before.

TDI: Process depends on specific case. If something were to happen, we would move very expeditiously. Move to rehabilitation. Rehab order by the court. Rehabilitator would file a rehab plan within one year, but it could be done in a matter of days. How were claims going to be paid and what the process would be.

12.41

TDI has no specific comment, but available to answer questions.

TWIA Board now asking questions. Receivership has a stigma. Could TDI  talk through pros and cons of receivership?

TDI: Two types of receivership. Rehabilitation and liquidation. Rehab akin to a Chapter 11 in bankruptcy. Purpose is to revitalize an insurer so it can go into the marketplace. Company can pay claims, issue policies, without market disruption.

12.38

Public comment over. Moving on. Consideration of following topics: Review options for addressing financial condition of Association.  Including receivership. Notes representation from TDI.

12.37

Eddie Cabazos — Item on agenda to go into closed session. Is that not a violation of the open meeting act? [No.]

Answer — The Open Meetings law requires final action to be taken in open session. but advice of counsel can cause a closed session.

12.35

Tom Tagliabue, Government relations person for the City of Corpus Christi. Also opposed to receivership.

12.35

Joe Vega, Mayor of City of Port Isabel [again apologies for misspelling of names].  Will hurt small businesses.

Mr. William Goldsten, Corpus Christi — Negative economic impacts to engineering and construction profession along the Gulf Coast. [You know, these are probably all fine people, but that is not the issue.  The issue is whether receivership is the best way to address TWIA insolvency.  The fact that the legislature is in session is relevant, but not dispositive.  Grab law is the alternative to receivership.  Receivership is really a code word for insolvency.  In law school, we call this argumentative technique, “fighting the hypothetical] It will create chaos along the coast. #twia. Reduce the discrimination against the coast.

12.31

Eric Sandberg, Texas Banker’s Association — We need to have viable insurance in place, particularly from a regulatory standpoint.

12.30

Eric Sanburg, Texas Banker’s Association — skipped

David Garza, Cameron County.  [Ever get the sense this might be a bit one-sided presentation of commentary?  Looks like the coast, whose ox appears gored, has gotten its political act together whereas diffuse other constituencies have not]. Receivership is not the answer.  Let the legislature do its job. If we don’t get adequate results from this legislative session, do what it takes to make us solvent.  Our bankers and mortgage holders are nervous. [Let alone homeowners and businesses!]

12.27

Foster Edwards, the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce. CCCofC has been working with TWIA staff for years. A “bonehead idea, frankly.” Expressed well in letter on page E4 of packet, signed by four state representatives. [Is this the Deshotel letter that I just posted to this blog.]

12.24

Mr. Perkins with the Coastal Windstorm Taskforce: Mayor of Ingleside. We speak with one voice in opposition to go into receivership.  Again the argument that assessments are available.  [Has it occurred to anyone to actually read the statute?]  Development will be hurt. [Maybe industry could pay people extra to help purchase insurance?] Let the legislature do its job. Create a transition from TWIA to some other entity but not an instant effect on the market.

12.22

Charlie Zahn, Coastal Windstorm Taskforce: Close to matching up bills for final consideration by Senate. [Really?]  Legislative process needs to take care of this issue. Receivership implies TWIA does not have the ability to pay its bills in the future. You don’t have the basis for receivership. Trust fund in place.  You have the ability to assess. [HOW??] We are a viable entity. #twia. Already had a negative impact on Texas coast, including banks. [Probably true] Can they continue to provide mortgage loans. [Yes, a legitimate concern.  But is it receivership that is causing the problem or the insolvency.]

12.18

Greg Smith, Coastal Taskforce: Question of solvency should be judged as a residual carrier, not as a private insurer.  There are other residual carriers that are much worse off than TWIA.  National Flood, New Jersey FAIR Plan and Louisiana FAIR plan are worse off. Yet no question about their solvency. Will send messages to other carriers across the nation.  Rating agencies say you don’t have to have positive surplus.  [The everyone is doing it defense?]

12.16

Anne Vaughan, Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce [my apologies for any misspelled names]. Oppose what is “nothing more than an insane idea.” [Why is it insane to put an insolvent entity into receivership? Kubler-Ross stages of grief comes to mind. Denial. Anger] Has unconfirmed Commissioner of Insurance thought this through? TWIA is our only source of insurance. [But if it were not, one would never know if TWIA premiums were too low]

12.13

TWIA board member distinguishing between comments of TWIA and comments of TDI.

12.12

Joe McComb of Nueces County: Precinct 4.  The fun part of Nueces County. I do know people are concerned about coverage.  If they’ve got TWIA, they’ve shopped coverage and they have no alternative.  Worried that the decision has been made. [Yup]  Give legislature 60 days to solve this problem.  Good part of having a crisis is that the legislature is in session.  Place faith in elected officials. It will take 60-120 days to implement receivership anyway.  [Most persuasive speaker so far].

12.09

Keith McMullen with Port Aransas: Mayor of Port Aransas. Please don’t pursue receivership. Don’t case doubt on insurance market on the coast. Already created nervousness.

12.08

Schlitterbahn Waterpark representative speaks:  How will receivership impact existing contracts with lenders and vendors? TWIA receivership creates uncertainty that will chill business. [True, but what is the alternative if TWIA is insolvent? — SJC]. Before TWIA placed in receivership, other funding alternatives should be explored. [Like what? Assessments?]  My editorial comments are in brackets.

12.06

Jim Rich of Beaumont Chamber of Commerce: Very concerned about receivership. Notes importance of coast to economy. Wants a legislative solution. Let the legislative process work.  [But what if nothing happens? — SJC]

12.03

Public comment limited to 3 minutes with a timer. No more than 30 minutes to public comment period before moving to the rest of the agenda.

12.01

Calling roll

11.59

If you can see this it is a part of Rep. Deshotel’s letter.   It’s the first inkling of any legal theory behind the idea that TWIA can still asess for Ike.  Don’t expect insurers to buy it.geeslin assessment theory

11.55

Meeting is beginning.  One can see people milling on the video.

11.53

Channel 12 News (Beaumont) reports that State Representative Joe Deshotel has issued a press release opposing placement into receivership. Add him to the list of people whom I believe are mistaken on the law.  Here’s what he says in his letter:

If the Board would simply follow the law in place for these 2008 policies by assessing the insurance companies and moving the premium money to the Trust Fund, which currently has 8 million, TWIA would have over 5 million, which is hundreds of millions more (50%) than the Trust Fund has ever had!

11.50

Rick Spruill of the Corpus Christi Caller posted a preview of today’s meeting about 20 minutes ago.

11.46

In theory, you should also be able to follow this blog on Twitter using the hashtag #twia

11.40

Here some issues I expect to hear discussed at the meeting:

1) Is TWIA really as insolvent as its annual statement asserts (i.e. 3 million in the hole).  There are occasionally discretionary choices that get made in insurance accounting.  And there are occasionally mistakes.  Does anyone have a credible argument that TWIA is not seriously insolvent?

2) Assuming TWIA is insolvent, what, if anything, is the real alternative to a receivership?  When an entity is insolvent, as TWIA apparently is, that means some creditors can not be paid in full. If you fail to create an orderly process to pay claims, it means that the entity gets taken apart piecemeal and that different creditors are randomly (or systematically) treated worse than they should be. This is why we have insolvency law and (in most instances) bankruptcy law. Why should TWIA be treated differently?

3) Is there any authority as several coastal politicians have maintained to help TWIA out by assessing insurers for losses attributable to Hurricane Ike?  This blog has repeatedly maintained here, here and here that there is no such legal authority and that the old legal authority, section 2210.058 of the Insurance Code, was repealed in 2009.  Let’s see if there is anything more than denial or bluster behind the claim that TWIA can assess insurers without there being a new storm that would justify the issuance of public securities?

Could the guaranty fund help TWIA policyholders?

We’ll know more in the coming days, but, if I am right in believing that the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is about to be placed into receivership, there is a substantial chance that the claims of at least some TWIA policyholders and other TWIA creditors will not be paid in full.  The Texas Department of Insurance admits as much in paragraph 10 of its recently issued FAQ. Now, ordinarily when a Texas property insurer goes insolvent and is placed in receivership, the Texas Property and Casualty Guaranty Association comes in and pays at least part of the unpaid portion of legitimate policyholder claims. So, the question is, could TPCIGA help out TWIA policyholders? And thereon rests a complex statutory thriller.

We start with the statute creating and regulating TPCIGA, the exciting Chapter 462 of the Texas Insurance Code. Let’s take a look at what claims are protected by TPCIGA.  That’s found in section 462.201.  Here it is.

Sec. 462.201.  COVERED CLAIMS IN GENERAL. A claim is a covered claim if:

(1)  the claim is an unpaid claim;

(2)  the claim is made under an insurance policy to which this chapter applies that is:

(A)  issued by an insurer authorized to engage in business in this state; or

(B)  assumed by an insurer authorized to engage in business in this state that issues an assumption certificate to the insured;

(3)  the claim arises out of the policy and is within the coverage and applicable limits of the policy;

(4)  the insurer that issued the policy or assumed the policy under an assumption certificate issued to the insured is an impaired insurer; and

(5)  the claim:

(A)  is made by a liability claimant or insured who is a resident of this state at the time of the insured event; or

(B)  is a first-party claim for damage to property that is permanently located in this state.

Most of this statute should be easily satisfied by TWIA policyholders.  It will relate to property permanently located in Texas. It will be unpaid (or they wouldn’t be complaining). It has to actually be covered by and within the limits of the policy.  It’s not as if you get a better insurance policy from TPCIGA than you got from your impaired insurer. But there are two tricky bits that I’ve highlighted in orange: (1) it has to relate to an insurance policy to which this chapter (462) applies and (2) the insurer that issued the policy has to be an impaired insurer.  Let’s turn to each of those in turn.

Leaf to section 462.004 of the statute.  It reads, in excerpted form,

Sec. 462.004.  GENERAL DEFINITIONS. In this chapter:

(5)  “Impaired insurer” means a member insurer that is:

(A)  placed in:

(i)  temporary or permanent receivership or liquidation under a court order, including a court order of another state, based on a finding of insolvency; or

(ii)  conservatorship after the commissioner determines that the insurer is insolvent; and

(B)  designated by the commissioner as an impaired insurer.

(6)  “Member insurer” means an insurer, including a stock insurance company, a mutual insurance company, a Lloyd’s plan, a reciprocal or interinsurance exchange, and a county mutual insurance company, that:

(A)  writes any kind of insurance to which this chapter applies under Sections 462.007 and 462.008, including reciprocal or interinsurance exchange contracts; and

(B)  holds a certificate of authority to engage in the business of insurance in this state.

 

So, in order to be an impaired insurer you have to be a “member insurer” (and be in receivership).  But what’s a member insurer?  If you were a stock insurance company, a mutual insurance company, a Lloyd’s plan or some other things, the matter would be easy. You’d be in.  But TWIA isn’t one of those things.  It’s just TWIA. But that’s not the only way to qualify.  See the word “includes.”  That generally means that the items listed are not the exclusive way to qualify.  If TWIA meets the conditions in parts (A) and (B) it should qualify as a “member insurer,” which, you will recall, is what we need before TWIA policyholders can seek protection from TPCIGA.

Now we are deep into the plot. Does TWIA write “any kind of insurance to which this chapter [462] applies under Sections 462.007 and 462.008?

We’re going to skip section 462.008.  Trust me, it has absolutely no relevance.  So, let’s focus instead on section 462.007.  It reads:

Sec. 462.007.  APPLICABILITY IN GENERAL; EXCEPTIONS.

(a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), this chapter applies to each kind of direct insurance.

(b)  Except as provided by Subchapter F, this chapter does not apply to:

(1)  life, annuity, health, or disability insurance;

(2)  mortgage guaranty, financial guaranty, or other kinds of insurance offering protection against investment risks;

[stuff that clearly does not apply omitted]

(8)  a transaction or combination of transactions between a person, including an affiliate of the person, and an insurer, including an affiliate of the insurer, that involves the transfer of investment or credit risk unaccompanied by the transfer of insurance risk, including transactions, except for workers’ compensation insurance, involving captive insurers, policies in which deductible or self-insured retention is substantially equal in amount to the limit of the liability under the policy, and transactions in which the insured retains a substantial portion of the risk; or

(9)  insurance provided by or guaranteed by government.

Assume for the moment that TWIA policies are “direct insurance.” If so, then Chapter 462 applies unless there’s an exception in subsection (b) of 462.007.  It’s quite clear that exceptions (1)-(8) do not apply.  TWIA is not selling ocean marine insurance. But there is this exception 9.  It says that the chapter does not apply to “insurance provided by or guaranteed by government.” Is TWIA provided by or guaranteed by government? Protestations of some notwithstanding, it is abundantly clear that TWIA policies are not (except conceivably for TPCIGA itself!) guaranteed by government. But might TWIA policies be insurance provided by government?!

And we have now reached the crucial moment in our mystery thriller.  Is TWIA insurance government provided insurance?  If it is, TWIA is not a member insurer and, as such, is not an impaired insurer, and, as such, is not the sort of insurer with respect to which TPCIGA offers policyholders any protection.

I would not laugh at someone who suggested that TWIA was not a government insurer.  It is, to be sure, a government-chartered insurer. Unlike Allstate, State Farm and the rest of the gang, TWIA does business not by satisfying general incorporation and licensure statutes but as a result of a special act of the legislature. But is not the federal or state government itself acting as an insurer. Moreover, a court that recently confronted the issue as to whether TWIA was entitled to sovereign immunity appears to have left the issue open.

Unfortunately, this argument, though not frivolous, runs into several obstacles.  First, I believe TWIA has treated itself and TPCIGA has treated it as if TWIA were a government insurer.  That’s because being a member insurer creates many duties. Chief among those duties is to pay assessments when other insurers go insolvent and TPCIGA has to pay claims. (Check out section 462.151). Non-members don’t have to pay assessments. TPCIGA issued assessments to members in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2006. (see here). My belief — and if I am wrong it is strong evidence that I am wrong — is that TWIA did not pay any of these assessments and was not asked to do so.  Here, for example is the TWIA financial statement for 2006/2007. I don’t see anywhere that it shows a TPCIGA assessment.

Second, I’m not aware of instances where Texas itself acts as an insurer other than on its own property. So if insurer just meant instances where the state itself is an insurer the exception in the statute would have no application.  There are canons of statutory interpretation that say you try not to construct statutory provisions so that they have no purpose. Instead, I suspect, the term “insurance provided by government” means insurance provided by government created entities such as TWIA, the Texas Fair Plan and entities such as TPCIGA itself.

At the end of the day, then, if you asked me, I would say TPCIGA is unlikely to come to the rescue of TWIA policyholders.  I would not say, however, that this is an open and shut case.  I do suspect, however, that the exclusive protection of TWIA policyholders is instead  the funding mechanism set up in Chapter 2210 of the insurance code and whatever amendments may come thereto.  Unfortunately, that’s not looking very good right now and, absent legislative rescue, is going to look abysmal in the event our Texas coast is socked with a significant storm this rapidly approaching hurricane season.

TWIA Financial Statement appears to confirm insolvency

I have received a copy of the 2012 TWIA financial statement.  You can see it at the link at the bottom of this post. If you look on page 3 of the document, line 37, you will see the figure $182,979,043 in parentheses. In accounting notation, parentheses denote  a negative number.  The balance sheet looks even a little worse  if one consults page 14 of the financial statement.  There it appears to say that if one uses national standards for insurance accounting, the NAIC SAP basis, rather than Texas-specific rules, TWIA is $217,188,190 in the hole. This is considerably worse than in 2011, when its surplus was a negative $7,381,879.

Screenshot_3_22_13_6_26_PMThe income statement isn’t pretty either.  TWIA’s net income in 2012 was a negative $180 million. (Page 4, line 20). And, on a cash flow basis, it looks as it TWIA lost $47 million in cash in 2012. (page 5, line 18).

Anyway, although I do know a tad and wish I knew more, and although I am definitely not expert in the arcane field of insurance accounting, it does look as if there is support for the contention that TWIA is insolvent.

2012 Annual Statement. (Obtained from Texas Department of Insurance via Elizabeth Christian & Associates Public Relations)