Bill filed to migrate Texas coastal insurance to an assigned risk plan

Texas State Senator John Carona has filed an 83-page bill (S.B. 18) that would completely overhaul the system by which most coastal Texans transfer the risk of windstorm.  Under the existing system, most coastal insureds get their windstorm insurance through the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), a state-created entity which has (correctly) been found unsustainable by the current Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman.  The Carona bill, a copy of which may be found here (Corona SB 18 TWIA), rapidly transitions TWIA to an assigned risk plan, the Texas Property Insurance Program (TPIP), under which Texas insurers would be impelled to take on coastal risk.

Catrisk will be doing a much more thorough analysis of this important bill in the days ahead, but here are some key points on a quick read. Clearly, this bill was drafted by professionals.  It’s intricate and covers a lot of ground. There is a lot to digest.  So, I hope I don’t make too many errors in saying this.

  1. Starting in January of 2014 (or as soon as the TPIP gets off the ground), the TPIP clearinghouse will make existing TWIA policies up for grabs by existing insurers.  It looks as though existing Texas property and casualty insurers can prevent TWIA from forming a contract with a coastal insureds if they agree to take on the risk for the same terms as TWIA and a premium that is not more than 110% of the TWIA premium.  (Section 2210.211(g))I would initially expect this program to permit Texas insurers to cherry pick off the properties currently insured by TWIA but that are actually somewhat farther from the coast than other TWIA policies.
  2. TWIA policy limits are going down and deductibles going up.  If I read section 2210.507 correctly, after TPIP gets off the ground, TWIA policy limits on residences will max out at $500,000 (down a lot from the $1.something million that now exists) and deductibles will be at least 5%. Also, the bill will prevent some of the water v. wind disputes that have occurred recently by requiring that property in Zone V of the National Flood Insurance program must have flood insurance. (2214.251(a)(2)).
  3. After April 2015, TWIA won’t write policies on any residences that it wasn’t already insuring: renewals only. (section 2210.212(1)).  And it looks as if the new entity, the TPIP clearinghouse, will have a right of first refusal on these renewals. (section 2210.213). See also very similar provisions in 2211.1515, et. seq.
  4. After October 2015, TWIA won’t be writing policies on residences, period.  No renewals, no new policies. (section 2210.212(2))
  5. Rates on policies written through TPIP are ultimately going to be market rates. Under 2214.402, “the rating classes, territories, and method used to determine the market rate must be designed in a manner to ensure that the the assigned program rating manual is as compatible as possible with the voluntary market’s rating method.” Territorial rating appears to be quite permissible (i.e. truly coastal properties may pay rates different than slightly inland coastal properties). The one constraint is that insurers can not break up zip codes. (Section 2214.402(f)). The bill provides for hearings — won’t those be fun! — before the Texas Insurance Commissioner who gets to approve or disapprove the rate calculation method proposed by the Managing General Agent who is going to be running the TPIP. (Section 2214.404).
  6. There are, however, transition rules that will protect some TWIA insureds from the market for a while.  For existing TWIA insureds with residences worth less than $250,000 with contents worth less than $80,000, there is some protection. (Section 2214.456). The period of transition protection depends on the value of the property.  Basically, it is at most 10 years for property worth less than $100,000, at most 5 years for property worth $100,000-$150,000, and at most three years for property worth $150,000-250,000.  (2214.456(c)(2)). Property worth more than $250,000 is not eligible for transition protection. The actual period of transition may be less if the difference between market rates and pre-existing TWIA rates is not that large.
  7. By way of example, if TWIA rates are X and market rates are 1.3X, a dwelling with a value of $140,000 would see rates go up 6% every year for 5 years until the rates increased 30%.  If TWIA rates are X and market rates are 1.4X, a dwelling with a value of $200,000 would see rates go up 13.3% per year for three years until the rates increased 40%.
  8. And who is going to eat the difference between the market rate and the transition rate that these policyholders pay?  It looks like Texas insureds and the state.  Under section 2214.458 of the bill, an insurer “may include a provision in its residential property insurance rates to recoup up to 50% of the transition premiums not collected by the insurer in the previous calendar year.”  Moreover, the insurer is entitled to take as a credit against otherwise owed premium taxes, the remaining 50% of the shortfall between the market premiums that it would otherwise be receiving and the transition premiums that it does receive.
  9. TPIP policies will have maximum limits of $1 million for dwellings, and 40% of that amount for personal property. TPIP policies will have deductibles of 3% for dwellings and the greater of $1,500 or 3% for condominium and tenant policies.  (Section 2214.602)
  10. Insurers throughout Texas and insureds throughout Texas are going to pay in several ways to bail out TWIA.  This may be a necessary evil, but is going to cost. It won’t be done through things that are called “taxes,” but it is going to take money out of the hands of non-coastal Texans and their insurers.
  11. First, Texas insurers are going to be required to force their insureds — even if they live in Amarillo, Childress, Waco or Texarkana — to pay a special surcharge from January 2014 through September 2016 not just on homeowner insurance but on all forms of property and casualty insurance, including automobile insurance (Section 2210.4521). For property in the areas covered by TWIA, the surcharge is 5%.  Elsewhere it is 1%. That money is going to go to shore up the catastrophe reserve fund.
  12. It looks like we are going back to the old system of insurer assessment as a way of fronting money to bail out current TWIA if we get hit with a significant storm that exhausts the catastrophe reserve fund (even as shored up). I say “fronting” and not “paying” because the new bill also restores the premium tax credits under which insurers get to credit against premium tax they would otherwise owe, 20% per year for five years of the assessments that they pay. (Section 2210.0561(e)). So, for at least a while, it’s really the Texas taxpayer or beneficiaries of Texas tax dollars that will be paying for a lot of coastal insurance risk.   Section 2210.0561(c) of the bill says that member insurers — that’s TWIA lingo for insurers selling property/casualty insurance in Texas — will be liable for up to $2 billion in assessments in excess of the rather catastrophe reserve trust fund that is now rather puny but that may grow through the assessment scheme described above. After that, reinsurance, pays for losses.  After that, who knows.  If, however, TWIA depopulates, as is projected, the expected exposure of these “member insurers” and reinsurers will rapidly decline.
  13. Insurers throughout Texas have to pay to buy reinsurance for TWIA to give its policyholders additional protection.  $2 billion of reinsurance.  (Section 2210.453). Apparently this requirement exists regardless of the price reinsurers want to pay (which may not be the best bargaining position from which to start).  I guess we should assume that insurers will figure out a way to pass this cost (which might be at least $100 million) on to their insureds throughout Texas.
  14. The TPIP is going to be run by a Managing General Agent that is going to have a lot of authority.  The MGA may also have a lot of protection against members of the public who want to know how it is running its operation.  Under 2214.153 of the Carona bill, “information, analyses, programs or data acquired or created by the [MGA] … are property of the state” and, critically, “exempt from public disclosure under Chapter 552 of the Government Code.”