Todd Hunter asks a good question

Todd Hunter at a recent town hall meeting on windstorm insurance

Todd Hunter at a recent town hall meeting on windstorm insurance

There is at least one thing Representative Todd Hunter (Corpus Christi, Texas) and I agree on: I am not a member of his fan club.  This blog has frequently criticized Representative Hunter for what I regard as his misguided views on windstorm insurance.  Frankly, neither he nor I appear to appreciate each other’s “style.” But, give credit where credit is due.  He has now actually asked a very good question.

In a letter last Friday to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Representative Hunter asked for an opinion stating whether a failure by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to assess private insurance companies fees to shore up its ability to pay claims amounts to negligence.  I raised the same issue several months ago in a prior blog post. Were the Attorney General to opine positively, it could open the door to legal action against the board of directors of TWIA or its officers during the critical 2008-2009 time period after Hurricane Ike and before HB 4409 repealed a statute under which TWIA might have issued further assessments against member insurers to shore up its finances. If it were to turn out either that any of the board members or officers has significant funds or if anyone responsible for any of their misdeeds either by operation of law or through an insurance contract has money, it could ultimately help bring some desperately needed additional funds into the largest windstorm on the Texas coast.

The problem with the preceding paragraph, however, is the number of “ifs” it contains.  First, the Texas Attorney General would need to opine positively.  I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. But he might well opine that this was a factual question on which he had no legal opinion.  He might opine that he lacked the facts on which to render an opinion.  He might remind Representative Hunter (who obviously knows this point) that negligence is not the same thing as strict liability. A realization in hindsight that the assessments were too low is not the same thing as a failure to make assessments that were plainly reasonable at the time such a decision would have been made.  Defendants in such a lawsuit would surely argue that making such an assessment and increasing the size of the Ike pie would just have made TWIA a stronger lawsuit magnet and left no more money for future claims. None of these responses would be particularly helpful to Representative Hunter.

Second, to make such a lawsuit more than a show trial or truth commission, someone needs to have actual money.  I don’t know for sure, but it would strike me as unlikely that any of the board members or officers have $400 million in assets upon which execution is practical. And while some of the large corporate entities affiliated with the board members would likely have that kind of cash, tagging the corporation for any sins of these board members will be a challenge. TWIA probably has some form of liability insurance to protect its board of directors, but until we see the policy it is hard to know what it covers or how much protection it would offer. In any event, no defendant is likely to write a check right away to the plaintiff in such a lawsuit . In any money ever comes in, it will likely be years from now — a long time for claimants against an insolvent TWIA to wait for payment that repairs their hurricane-damaged roof.

Third, one should expect to see defenses of statutory immunity and the statute of limitations raised.  Under section 2210.106 of the Texas Insurance Code, officers and directors have at least some immunity from damage lawsuits for many forms of ordinary negligence. And the statute of limitations for breach of fiduciary duty in Texas is four years. If that statute runs from the time of the original assessment, a lawsuit now is too late.  If it runs from the date that section 44 of HB 3 was signed into law and eliminated TWIA’s former ability to assess, the deadline would appear to be July 19, 2013, leaving precious little time in which to file such suit. (Hint, hint?)

It will be interesting to see how Attorney General Abbott responds to this request.  As I have suggested, the matter is not an open and shut case and bad decisions in hindsight does not negligence make. Still, there has always been something troubling about the process and chronology here.  TWIA, over which insurers have had substantial control, making assessments against insurers that are lower than that requested by its managers and that turned out to be low all the while watching or, more troublingly yet, possibly participating in, a statute that cuts off the ability of TWIA to assess for Ike. Representative Hunter deserves credit for asking the Attorney General to take a look at the legality of actions that are in part responsible for the predicament in which TWIA and its policyholders now find themselves.

Here’s a link to the letter from Representative Hunter. AG Opinion Request

A minimalist last-minute fix for TWIA

It looks as if we are down to the wire in the Texas legislature on reforming the state’s public system for addressing catastrophic risk.  No one has developed a solution that is economically sensible and politically acceptable.  This leaves Texas in an extremely difficult position.  One alternative is to just leave the status quo in place. This choice subjects coastal residents to a substantial risk of a cataclysmic failure of their insurance system. Derivatively, it leaves the rest of Texas vulnerable to a Herculean task of picking up the huge financial pieces after a major tropical storm. The failure of the legislature to act also gives the Texas insurance commissioner extra cause to throw TWIA into receivership. The other alternative is to burden Texas for years with a very bad bill, S.B. 1700, which is the only proposal to emerge from a committee thus far. I thus offer a minimalist last-minute fix for TWIA.  Actually, I offer two.

This chart summarizes the situation today.

IssueAnswer
IssueAnswer
Days until the start of hurricane season1
Days until the end of the legislative session0
Next hearing of Senate Business and Commerce Committee None scheduled
Next hearing of House Insurance CommitteeNone scheduled
Size of Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund$180 million
Bond Anticipation Notes (pre-event bonds)None. Approval refused by Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman
Reinsurance sought$1.15 billion at an attachment of $2.2 billion (not yet obtained)
Probability of TWIA losses in 2013 exceeding size of Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund and Bond Anticipation NotesTWIA Estimate: 7.7% My Estimate: 10%-- could be higher if forecasts of active-hyperactive hurricane season prove accurate Estimates for 2013 and 2014 seasons are between 15-18% assuming no growth in Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund
Bills enacted addressing TWIA problems for 2013 hurricane seasonNone
Bills enacted addressing TWIA problems for hurricane season past 2013S.B. 1702 (still requires signature of Governor Perry and does very little)

Texas must somehow get out of this trap between rotten choices. It should not permit exploitation of a largely self-created crisis by coastal legislators to hurt the rest of the Texas economy for years to come. Here is my suggestion.  It is not what I would want.  It is not a very good scheme.  But it is better than the status quo and it is better than SB 1700, which perpetuates morally unjust and sneaky wealth transfers, makes a mockery of commitments to the free market, and has, in the end and notwithstanding its innovative use of the word “must” in various provisions, no real plan to end the cycle of dependency on government mandated subsidies, often from poor to rich. My hope is that this suggestion can be politically acceptable if a lot of people suck up their pride and think about their constituents, both within their district and outside it.  In fact, I will offer two schemes. I am hardly expert on parliamentary procedure in Texas, but I am hopeful that both could be implemented through amendments to SB 1700. I am even hopeful that both schemes might conjure up the ⅔ vote necessary to get this bill in place in time for the 2013 hurricane season, which starts essentially as soon as the 83rd Texas Legislature recesses.

TWIA Fix 1: The absolute minimalist fix.

1. Fix the worst bugs in the system of post-event bonds in place.  Reduce the Class 1 Funding scheme to a $200 million maximum. Such a bond could probably be amortized by  only a 5% surcharge on TWIA policyholders after a major storm.  Those policyholders would grumble about being kicked when they were down, which would be true, but most could probably pay.  Their ability to pay provides the needed foundation for Class 1 Bonds to be marketable. Keep Class 2 Bonds in place and raise 70% of $1 billion from coastal insureds (including TWIA policyholders) via a premium surcharge and raise 30% of $1 billion from insurers.  If the Class 1 bonds fail, just start with Class 2.  Ditch the buggy and unworkable Class 2 Alternative Bond scheme in section 2210.6136. Keep Class 3 funding in place to raise an additional $500 million.  This will create something like a $2 billion stack for the 2013 and 2014 hurricane seasons. Maybe a little more for 2014 if we are lucky in 2013.

2. Require TWIA to put at least two dollars into its CRTF off the top for every dollar that it spends in reinsurance. That will make TWIA think carefully about the costs of purchasing reinsurance in a system where reinsurers charge about 5 times the expected risk and instead consider more carefully putting that money into the CRTF where there is close to dollar for dollar return.

3. Tell policyholders in the most forceful way about the risks posed to them by TWIA’s funding problem. Tell them with actual numbers derived from the best models available what the risk is that TWIA will not have enough money to pay claims and what the expected shortfall is likely to be.  If, for example, TWIA’s stack for 2013 is $2 billion, then advise policyholders that the risk of their insurer being insolvent is about 3-4% per year.  Tell them further that if TWIA becomes insolvent, they are most likely to get only 50 cents for each dollar that TWIA owes them. (My calculation). Finally, let them know that neither the state of Texas nor the Texas Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association has any legal obligation to pay for losses not covered by TWIA. It reeks of Enron not to be as explicit as one can about the special risks TWIA policyholders face.

Warning : The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is not expected \ to have adequate funds to pay claims in years where total losses \ exceed about $2 billion. There is about a 4% risk of this occurring \ in 2013. In such circumstances you may receive 50 cents or less for \ each legitimate dollar of claims you file. Neither the State of Texas \ nor the Texas Property Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association has \ any legal obligation to pay claims for which the Texas Windstorm \ Insurance Association lacks adequate funds.

TWIA warning label

Will this scare lenders? Only dumb ones that haven’t been following the situation.  It will, however, alert TWIA policyholders to the desirability of at least seeing if other insurance alternatives are available and, in any event, taking every possible precaution against loss if a storm approaches.

4. Eliminate this nonsense in SB 1700 of shielding the entities running TWIA from public scrutiny by giving them special exemption from disclosure laws.  If there were ever an entity affecting the public trust that ought to be subject to public information requests, which already have protection from undue burdens built in, it is TWIA.

TWIA Fix 2: A minimalist fix

1. Scrap the whole opaque layering scheme for post-event bonds.  It just disguises the foundation of wealth transfers on which the whole current scheme rests. If we are going to use post-event bonds to fund storm losses above the catastrophe reserve fund, have them paid for explicitly and transparently by insureds throughout the state. Pay for losses in excess of the TWIA CRTF  by permitting the Texas Department of Insurance to impose a premium surcharge on essentially all property/casualty insurance sold in Texas sufficient to amortize an aggregate $3 billion over 10 years.  The surcharge should be clearly labeled “to subsidize coastal property windstorm insurance” so that insureds throughout the state know exactly why they are paying this extra money.  Depending on interest rates, a $3 billion initial principal balance will require a payment of about $380 million per year, which I believe is on the order of a 1% premium surcharge for 10 years.  (Computation based on http://www.naic.org/state_report_cards/report_card_tx.pdf (page 6)). TWIA policyholders pay a double surcharge.

2. Start pre-funding this potential $3 billion obligation.  Create some sort of trust fund akin to the TWIA CRTF and fund it by imposing a 0.5% premium surcharge starting as soon as possible on the same set of Texas property/casualty insurance policies that would have to pay the surcharge described in paragraph 1. Again, the surcharge should be clearly labeled “to provide a reserve fund that subsidizes coastal property windstorm insurance.” That way, insureds throughout the state would know why their hard-earned dollars are being taken away.  Use these dollars to reduce initial principal balance on post-event bonds that will need to be issued (up to $3 billion) to pay for storm losses suffered by TWIA policyholders.

3. Again, tell policyholders in the most forceful way about the risks posed to them by TWIA’s funding problem. Tell them with actual numbers derived from the best models available what the risk is that TWIA will not have enough money to pay claims and what the expected shortfall is likely to be. If, for example, TWIA’s stack for 2013 is $3.2 billion, then advise policyholders that the risk of their insurer being insolvent is about 2% per year.  Tell them further that if TWIA becomes insolvent, they are most likely to get about 90 cents for each dollar that TWIA owes them. (My calculation). Finally, let them know that neither the state of Texas nor the Texas Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association has any legal obligation to pay for losses not covered by TWIA.

4. Again, require TWIA to put at least two dollars into its CRTF off the top for every dollar that it spends in reinsurance. That will make TWIA think carefully about the costs of purchasing reinsurance in a system where reinsurers charge about 5 times the expected risk and instead put it into the CRTF where there is close to dollar for dollar return.

 5. Give inland interests more substantial representation on the TWIA board and give the TWIA board authorization to reduce its exposure (and therefore reduce the risk of insolvency) through a variety of steps, including placing a limit lower than currently exists on the maximum limit on residential properties (primary and secondary), imposition of higher deductibles or coinsurance than currently exists and ability to place different restrictions on policies on new properties than policies on existing properties. This will impel the TWIA board to do what it should have been doing all along — prioritize between affording higher and better coverage to people but running a substantial risk of insolvency, or providing more moderate coverage — perhaps with a focus on the less wealthy — for which money will actually exist in the event of a major storm.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been writing a lot over the past 10 months about ways of addressing the system of catastrophic risk insurance in place for the Texas coast.  It’s not so hard to be an academic theorist in which one can assume away the world of political constraints. But now, at the least, we have those realities to face and some scary deadlines coming up.  Maybe what I am proposing comes too late.  I hope not.  Because while my proposals are hardly perfect — indeed they should sunset by the 84th legislature — I do think each of them is considerably better than the horrible choice now facing the Texas legislature.  Maybe some future session will feature less inflammatory and unproductive bombast, fewer attempts at special interest legislation and more serious and informed reflection about ways in which mechanisms thought good enough for the rest of Texas and its insurance markets can again be made the primary method of catastrophic risk transfer along the Texas coast. In the mean time, you have my thoughts on what might currently be achieved.

 

TWIA validates risk of insolvency and threat of small weather events

A letter from TWIA in response to a public information request validates the methodology used on this blog to assess alternative legislative proposals to fund catastrophic risk in Texas. This response to a public information request also shows that, given TWIA’s thin capitalization and growing exposure, even small weather events can have a serious effect. A redacted copy of that response is provided in the link below. The redaction is to protect the identity of the requestor (not me) who fears retaliation for having submitted it.

[Copy of letter temporarily deleted until redaction can be improved]

May 8, 2013 letter from TWIA

May 8, 2013 letter from TWIA

Insolvency Risk

Here is TWIA’s risk of insolvency based on what it apparently believes it can achieve in pre-event funding, post-event bonding and reinsurance.  For reasons I have set forth elsewhere, I believe these estimates of how much funding TWIA can receive are financially and legally unrealistic.

Source of FundingAmountCumulative AmountProbability Exceedance
Source of FundingAmountCumulative AmountProbability Exceedance
Premiums and CRTF$200 million$200 million17.4%
Class 1 Bonds$500 million$700 million7.7%
Class 2 Bonds$1 billion$1.7 billion3.2%
Class 3 Bonds$500 million$2.2 billion2.5%
Reinsurance$1.15 billion$3.35 billion1.5%

Regular readers of this blog — actually an impressively growing number — will note two things.  First, these estimates are close to estimates I have made of the risk to TWIA.  I have not been crying “wolf” or (needlessly) imitating Chicken Little on this topic for these many months. There is a very serious problem on the coast of Texas and, derivatively, a very serious problem for the rest of Texas. Also, since my estimates of the burden on various constituencies posed by various legislative proposals are based on these same models (see here, here and here for examples), the TWIA data tends to validate my estimates.  Bills such as SB 1700 indeed force non-TWIA policyholders to pay a stunningly large portion of the claims of TWIA policyholders.

Second, these estimates are one year values.  If one looks at the risk of insolvency over longer period of time, the risk increases significantly.  So, for example, if TWIA is not substantially fixed until the 84th legislative session and its catastrophe reserve trust fund does not grow, there is about a 32% probability that TWIA will have to go beyond its catastrophe reserve fund in order to pay claims.

Reinsurance

TWIA confirms in its response that it is trying to obtain $1.15 billion in reinsurance. Its hope is to spend $106 million and get an attachment point atop Class 3 bonds of $2.2 billion. It confirms that it may be able to get between $900 million and $1.1 billion of insurance coverage for this money.

There is, however, a troubling paragraph in the public information request response. The one contingency mentioned in the response is that TWIA might not be possible to sell the Bond Anticipation Notes (BAN) and thus might need an attachment point on the reinsurance of $1.7 billion. Fair enough. But the problem is actually considerably more serious. If the BAN does not sell — indeed if any of the authorized $1 billion in Class 1 Securities can not fully be issued — then TWIA can not issue $1 billion in regular Class 2 Securities.  It has to issue what I have called Class 2 Alternative Securities.  But the Class 2 Securities depend on the same dubious funding source as the Class 1 Securities, so the market might not buy those either.  And, if the Class 2 Alternative Securities don’t sell the Class 3 Securities can not be sold.

TWIA actually noticed at least part of this problem back in December when it made its recommendations to the Texas legislature.  Read pp. 30-32 of this TWIA document. Six months later, however, TWIA appears to be ignoring that major problem even though the law under which it operates remains unchanged.   If TWIA and/or its reinsurance broker is not paying attention to this point, it could be about to make dubious use of $106 million in TWIA policyholder money.  Because if TWIA buys reinsurance with an attachment point of $1.7 billion or $2.2 billion and it has only, say, $900 million in actual cash available to pay claims, TWIA will have no money to pay losses between $900 million and the attachment point. There’s a gap. It’s like buying catastrophic health insurance with a big deductible when you don’t even have enough money to pay for modest claims. The reinsurance will not kick in and it will not “drop down.” And so, TWIA will be able to pay only a small fraction (perhaps as little as 50%) of its losses with unusable reinsurance just sitting there.

For what it’s worth,  I’ve talked about all this before (here and here, for example, and here too).  And its a bug that many of the proposals now floating about the legislature fix.  But who knows if any of these proposals will actually become law.

The CRTF

TWIA confirms that at the end of March it stood at $180 million. At least it has not gone down more since the beginning of the year.

Recent Hailstorms

A friend has stated that “TWIA doesn’t even have enough to pay for a thunderstorm.” I had always taken this to be an exaggeration.  But the Public Information Request confirms that a thunderstorm in Santa Fe and Hitchcock on April 2, 2013 — a localized non-catastrophic weather event —  generated about $50 million in losses (what would be 28% of its CRTF). Fortunately, this storm did not get beyond the budgeted amount for 2013 non-catastrophe losses and did not require a dip into the CRTF. But think about it.  This moderate weather event cost TWIA more than 10% of its premiums.  What if there’s another severe thunderstorm or two this year?  What does this say about premiums?  What does it say about the needed capitalization of a bulked up TWIA?

The problem is one of exposure.  TWIA now insures so much property and the coast — thanks partly to TWIA subsidized insurance rates — has become sufficiently developed  that even moderate or localized weather events can potentially wipe out TWIA’s Ike-depleted catastrophe reserve trust fund and force TWIA onto the uncharted waters of post-event financing.

Thanks

Maybe TWIA isn’t this helpful all the time to everybody, but in my experience TWIA has made an effort to provide timely and reasonable responses to reasonable public information requests.  So, a thanks to Jennifer Armstrong and the staff there on this point.

Caveats

It might be worth repeating that the views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Houston.

Also, the views expressed in this posts do not necessarily reflect those of the recipient of the public information request at issue.

Breaking News: Major TWIA Bill Approved by Senate Committee

According to a reliable source, a highly amended S.B. 1700 that resembles somewhat the committee substitute HB 3622 has been voted favorably out of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

Here’s a link to the bill. Senate Bill 1700 approved by Business and Commerce

I’ll try to provide a detailed analysis in the next 24 hours.  The short version, however, is this bill looks like a masterpiece of special interest legislation that current TWIA policyholders on the coast should love. It gets rid of the worst problems in post-event bonds that have been around since 2011. Everyone off and on the coast should be glad that this problem is eliminated. The SB 1700 voted out of committee favorably reduces the probability of a storm that would gravely injure TWIA policyholders and, derivatively, the rest of Texas. It requires little if any sacrifice from TWIA policyholders in terms of mitigation and asks rich and poor insureds throughout Texas to subsidize property along the coast even more so than before. That subsidization continues even if the owners of coastal property are wealthy and don’t need or deserve the subsidy. But it continues extracting this money in a way that is very hard for the average insured to understand or see.  If you live off the coast, your 3% higher insurance bill won’t have a picture showing you the lovely beach home or modest coastal property you are now subsidizing more than before with your hard earned money, but you’ll be doing it nonetheless.

Also, the bill (section 2210.212) says that TWIA “must” reduce its potential exposure quite substantially both over the next few years and over the next decade.  In theory this means that TWIA will have to drop policyholders and private insurers will have to pick them up. It looks, however, as if all that “must” means is that Texas insurers, if they don’t write insurance on the coast as desired by TWIA, will have to collectively fork over $200 million.  I have serious doubts this provision means much more than that Texas insurers can look forward to passing on a $200 million bill to their non-coastal policyholders every several years — how, exactly, is Allstate supposed to compete with subsidized TWIA? —  but perhaps if Allstate (just to pick on one large insurer arbitrarily) were to sell in the least vulnerable parts of the coast, it might be able to do so at only a modest loss and avoid being hit by the stick that this bill gives TWIA.  Anyway, more on this and other interesting bill features soon.

Oh, and I almost forgot.  If this bill passes it won’t be TWIA anymore.  It will be TRIP, the Texas Residual Insurance Plan.

A statute implementing drop down of Class 3 bonds

The concept

In a post yesterday, I suggested that the Texas legislature needs to prevent a needless insurance catastrophe this summer involving the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. The catastrophe would be triggered by the inability of the Texas Public Finance Authority to issue Class 2 Alternative post-event bonds following a significant tropical cyclone. As the current law is drafted, such an inability would cascade into an inability to issue any Class 3 post-event bonds and, unless the contract was carefully drafted in an unusual way, jeopardize the ability to collect on any of the expensive reinsurance TWIA had purchased. I thus suggested repeal of current provisions prohibiting the Class 3 bonds from dropping down. I suggested instead that these bonds be permitted to “drop down” in the event the Class 2 Alternative bonds fail to sell and that insurers be given a premium tax credit to the extent the drop down Class 3 bonds increase their subsidization of tropical cyclone losses along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Today, I want to post some statutory language that would actually implement this idea. I make this foray into statutory drafting because I regard the issue as one of extreme importance and would not like to see thousands of coastal Texans needlessly crippled financially following a significant hurricane because I did not make the effort. I am hardly expert in Texas statutory drafting but believe my skills in contract drafting, a subject I teach with some passion to students at the University of Houston Law Center, might transfer over to this domain. I also do so because I believe, perhaps naively, that this is a component of windstorm reform on which most politicians could actually agree, a matter that has become more imperative in my mind after having attended the most recent legislative hearing on windstorm reform. Of course to the extent that reform legislation is passed in the next 40 days (one day less than yesterday — tick, tick, tick) that would provide both for this summer and for hurricane seasons thereafter, the bandaid suggested here might well not be necessary.

In any event, here is some proposed language that would permit the drop down of Class 3 bonds as a bandaid for the upcoming hurricane season. Additions are underlined; deletions are struck through. The language could be added to many of the bills now pending in the legislature that reform TWIA. At the moment, the proposed legislation permits the drop down to occur at any time, but the permissible period could be restricted to calendar years 2013 and 2014. The bill might also need something like the following to ensure that it takes effect as soon as possible: “This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect on the 91st day after the last day of the legislative session.”

The statutory language

Sec. 2210.6135. PAYMENT OF CLASS 3 PUBLIC SECURITIES. (a) The association shall pay Class 3 public securities issued under Section 2210.074 as provided by this section through member assessments. The association, for the payment of the losses, shall assess the members of the association a principal amount not to exceed $500 million per catastrophe year. The association shall notify each member of the association of the amount of the member’s assessment under this section.

(b) The proportion of the losses allocable to each insurer under this section shall be determined in the manner used to determine each insurer’s participation in the association for the year under Section 2210.052.

(c) Except to the extent permitted under Section 2210.6136, a member of the association may not recoup an assessment paid under this section through a premium surcharge or tax credit.

Sec. 2210.6136. ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF PAYMENT. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter and subject to Subsection (b), on a finding by the commissioner that all or any portion of the total principal amount of Class 1 public securities authorized to be issued under Section 2210.072 cannot be issued, the commissioner, by rule or order, may cause the issuance of Class 2 public securities in a principal amount not to exceed the principal amount described by Section 2210.073(b).

(b) The commissioner shall order the repayment of the cost of Class 2 public securities issued in the manner described by Subsection (a) as follows:

(1) in the manner described by Section 2210.612(a), in an amount equal to the lesser of:

(A) $500 million; or

(B) that portion of the total principal amount of Class 1 public securities authorized to be issued under Section 2210.072 that cannot be issued, plus any costs associated with that portion; and

(2) after payment under Subdivision (1), in the manner described by Sections 2210.613(a) and (b), in an amount equal to the difference between the principal amount of public securities issued under Subsection (a) and the amount repaid in the manner described by Subdivision (1), plus any costs associated with that amount.

(c) If Class 2 public securities are issued in the manner authorized by this section, Class 3 public securities may be issued only after Class 2 public securities have been issued in the maximum amount authorized under Section 2210.073.

Sec. 2210.6137. BACKUP ALTERNATIVE SOURCE OF PAYMENT. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, on a finding by the commissioner that all or any portion of the total principal amount of Class 2 public securities authorized to be issued under Section 2210.072 or Section 2210.6136 cannot be issued, the commissioner, by rule or order, may cause the issuance of Class 3 public securities in a principal amount not to exceed the principal amount described by Section 2210.074(b).

(b) The commissioner shall order the repayment of the cost of Class 3 public securities issued in the manner described by Section 2210.074.

(c) An insurer may credit the “applicable fraction” as defined in subsection (d) of an amount paid in accordance with this Section in a calendar year against the insurer’s premium tax under Chapter 221. The tax credit authorized under this subsection shall be allowed at a rate not to exceed 20 percent per year for five or more successive years beginning the calendar year that the assessments under this section are paid. The balance of payments made by the insurer and not claimed as a premium tax credit may be reflected in the books and records of the insurer as an admitted asset of the insurer for all purposes, including exhibition in an annual statement under Section 862.001.

(d) For purposes of this section, the term “applicable fraction” means the ratio of

(1) the portion of the total principal amount of Class 2 public securities authorized to be issued under Section 2210.072 or Section 2210.6136 that cannot be issued to

(2) the initial principal amount of any Class 3 public securities issued pursuant to this section.

[Special Note: This post was edited at 6:30 p.m. on Monday to address some crucial formatting errors]

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.

Craig Eiland: TWIA can still assess for Ike

According to ABC-13, State Representative Craig Eiland of Galveston also thinks I’m wrong about whether TWIA can still assess insurers for damages caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008.  I’ve stated here and here in this blog that the repeal of section 2210.058 of the Texas Insurance Code in 2009 certainly seems to have ended that authority.  But Rep. Eiland states: “The board can reassess the companies now — today, tomorrow, next week — for the money and premiums they paid out in claims since Hurricane Ike.” TV stations don’t usually include footnotes, so I’m genuinely curious about what Rep. Eiland’s legal authority is for his assertion.

I’m also curious to see what would happen if TWIA followed Representative Eiland’s assertion and actually tried to reassess insurers around the state to pay for persistent Ike claims.  My guess is that it would not provide cash in time for the 2013 hurricane season. I suspect that many Texas insurers would file a lawsuit before they wrote a check.

The IBNR problem

IBNR is an acronym obscure to most but well known to those in the insurance industry.  It stands for Incurred But Not Reported and it can be the bane of insurers and insurance regulators.  It is behind some of the immediate problems facing the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) including its contemplation of conservatorship or receivership. That’s because Hurricane Ike, though it occurred in September 2008 and led to an assessment later that month on Texas insurers of $430 million, has ended up costing an amount which, if known at the time, likely would have justified a larger assessment.  Indeed, at least as reported by the Houston Chronicle, TWIA’s manager at the time Jim Oliver asked for an $830 million assessment  “but the board members — including several insurance company members — voted to reconvene later if further assessments are necessary.”  That reconvening to get additional money never occurred. As a result, current TWIA policyholders have effectively been paying since 2009 for losses incurred back in 2008 to the point where TWIA is now in considerable trouble even though there have been no major storms since Ike.  As discussed on this blog, TWIA is now talking publicly about conservatorship or receivership and, absent legislative intervention, entering  the 2013 hurricane season with woefully low reserves and a dubious ability to recapitalize and pay claims in the event of a significant storm.

The issue, which I don’t see explicitly on the agenda for the TWIA board meeting on March 25, 2013, is whether TWIA still has the authority to issue an assessment under the law that existed in 2008 at the time of Ike but has been substantially amended since then.  If so, that might reduce the probability of TWIA going under this summer while the legislature contemplates more serious changes. My own belief is that this is an important legal question on which I hope the TWIA board is getting paid advice from competent attorneys who are spending more than a few hours on the matter.  But, as a pretty competent attorney myself, let me offer some thoughts on the authority issue. The short version is that I do not think TWIA now has the authority to issue assessments under the old law.  Whether as a result of extremely clever legislative lobbying or just the luck of legislative drafting, in 2009 the insurance industry closed out its responsibilities under the old law. TWIA policyholders are basically left to cope with the remaining hash of Ike claims.

The key here is to understand the difference between the funding mechanism in place at the time of Ike in 2008 and the funding mechanism that the legislature put in place effective in June 2009. It’s complicated, so be patient. At the time of Ike, section 2210.058 of the Insurance Code (reprinted below) created a four tier structure for paying losses when TWIA did not have enough money in its regular accounts to pay the losses.  First, insurers throughout the state (the TWIA “members”)  would be hit for $100 million.  Second, TWIA’s catastrophe reserve fund — a special set aside account — and reinsurance would exhaust itself.  Third, insurers throughout the state would get hit with a $200 million assessment.  And, finally, if that still was not enough, insurers would be forced to pay whatever it took to pay off claims — the so-called unlimited assessment. In some sense, however, insurers mostly fronted this latter money instead of paying it outright; they recouped a good chunk of it back through credits against premium tax that they would otherwise owe.  Thus — and this was one of the major reasons for the change in the law that subsequently occurred — both insurers statewide and the State of Texas were effectively on the hook for large storms.  Insurers either had to have extra amounts of cash socked away in particularly liquid investments or had to pay to reinsure their potential assessment responsibilities.

The 81st legislature changed this arrangement and attempted to relieve both the state fisc and the insurance industry from the riskiest aspects of the prior scheme. Legally this was accomplished primarily through the addition of two new subchapters to the Texas Insurance Code: subchapters B-1 and J.  Subchapter B-1 set up tiers of post-event bonds (much discussed on this blog) that would be used to front money to TWIA policyholders with the bonds repaid over the years through assessments on TWIA policyholders, policyholders of many sorts on the coast, and, to a limited extent, property and casualty insurers in Texas. Subchapter J set up the rules for how these post-event bonds were to be issued.

If addition of Subchapters B-1 and J were all that the 81st legislature, the legal issue would be even harder.  But the legislature did more.  In section 44 of HB 4409, the Texas legislature explicitly repealed section 2210.058.  Moreover, various references in the statute to section 2210.058 were deleted. And, through repeal of sister provision 2210.059, the legislature eliminated any requirement that it be notified of any loss in tax revenue resulting from the tax credits that would potentially be triggered by an assessment. And in section 51 of the bill, it specified that the relevant provisions of the bill took effect immediately. Thus, when HB 4409 took effect in June of 2009, it appears that the authority to assess members under 2210.058 ended. The insurance industry gained its freedom — and derivatively the State of Texas protected its tax revenue — not just for future hurricanes but for hurricanes that had already occurred but whose claims were … IBNR.

Am I 100% certain this is correct?  No, but I am not finding any place else in any unrepealed sections of the former law that authorized insurer assessments to pay for hurricane losses. And without that statutory authority, I don’t see how the state can compel insurers to pay TWIA much of anything for losses created before 2009. Am I particularly happy about this answer? Actually not.  I was definitely not a big fan of the old law but if it had been applied the way TWIA leaders apparently wanted, we might have been in less of a mess today. Did the TWIA board breach some duty of care by issuing what turned out to be a low assessment in 2008?  Conceivably, but unless TWIA directors have $400 million lying around it may not much matter; moreover, it might well have been hard to forecast the scope and magnitude of Ike claims back then. There’s a lot of literature and disagreement on various factors that have caused Ike claims to grow. At bottom, it looks like the legislature made a choice in 2009 and Texans along the coast and, derivatively, the rest of Texas are now seeing some of the consequences of representative government in action.

Appendix

2210.058 as it stood at the time of Hurricane Ike (taken from http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/StatutesByDate.aspx)

Insurance Code 2210.058 on 9/25/2008


Text of section effective until June 19, 2009

Sec. 2210.058.  PAYMENT OF EXCESS LOSSES; PREMIUM TAX CREDIT. (a) If, in any calendar year, an occurrence or series of occurrences in a catastrophe area results in insured losses and operating expenses of the association in excess of premium and other revenue of the association, the excess losses shall be paid as follows:

(1)  $100 million shall be assessed against the members of the association as provided by Subsection (b);

(2)  losses in excess of $100 million shall be paid from the catastrophe reserve trust fund established under Subchapter J and any reinsurance program established by the association;

(3)  for losses in excess of those paid under Subdivisions (1) and (2), an additional $200 million shall be assessed against the members of the association, as provided by Subsection (b); and

(4)  losses in excess of those paid under Subdivisions (1), (2), and (3) shall be assessed against members of the association, as provided by Subsection (b).

(b)  The proportion of the losses allocable to each insurer under Subsections (a)(1), (3), and (4) shall be determined in the manner used to determine each insurer’s participation in the association for the year under Section 2210.052.

(c) Expired.

(c)  An insurer may credit an amount paid in accordance with Subsection (a)(4) in a calendar year against the insurer’s premium tax under Chapter 221.  The tax credit authorized under this subsection shall be allowed at a rate not to exceed 20 percent per year for five or more successive years beginning the calendar year that the assessments under this section are paid.  The balance of payments made by the insurer and not claimed as a premium tax credit may be reflected in the books and records of the insurer as an admitted asset of the insurer for all purposes, including exhibition in an annual statement under Section 862.001.

Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 727, Sec. 2, eff. April 1, 2007.

Amended by:

Acts 2007, 80th Leg., R.S., Ch. 932, Sec. 21, eff. June 15, 2007.

 

Section 44 of HB 4409

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

[Note: I have no idea what happened to paragraph (5) of Section 44.]

 

 

The source of TWIA’s $800 million in cash on hand

In a previous post, I indicated that TWIA thought it would have $800 million in cash immediately available to pay claims. I was a bit skeptical of this number. But, an article in today’s Insurance Journal, a reputable trade publication, details that the money would come $300 million (0.3 billion) from real cash on hand and $500 million (0.5 billion) from a “bond anticipation note.” The latter is basically bridge financing that one can obtain quickly. The BAN would be repaid, one assumes, from Class 1 securities that TWIA would issue shortly thereafter.

Now, here’s the rub. According to the Insurance Journal article (which may not be fully reflecting what was said on this point), Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman believes that, with this BAN, TWIA would have $4 billion available to pay claims. Here’s the math. $4.15 billion = $0.3 billion real cash on hand + $0.5 billion BAN + $1 billion Class 1 + $1 billion Class 2 + $0.5 billion Class 3 + $0.85 billion reinsurance. If that’s what Commissioner Kitzman said, I have concerns because it looks like the math rests on double counting. $0.5 billion of the Class 1 securities couldn’t be used to pay claimants because it would have to be used to pay off the BAN. I am pretty confident that the BAN investors wouldn’t lend the money otherwise. Plus, according to other statements made at the last TWIA board meeting, it appears that TWIA might not be able to issue successfully the full $1 billion of Class 1 securities authorized. Readers of this blog will understand why that might be. And if all this is true, TWIA doesn’t have $4.15 billion, it has $3.15 billion. Here’s why.

$3.15 billion = $0.3 billion real cash on hand + $0.5 billion BAN + $0.5 billion Class 1 – $0.5 billion used to pay off BAN + $1 billion Class 2 + $0.5 billion Class 3 + $0.85 billion (hopefully collectible) reinsurance.

I hope we never have to figure out whether the difference in accounting is material or not. In the mean time, though, it might be prudent for TWIA and TDI to clarify the numbers.

Note: since the time of this blog entry I have had some private communications that lead me to believe the “best” number — and no one knows for sure — is probably between $3.15 and $3.65 billion.  It depends in part on how much in Class 1 securities can actually be sold.