Fox 26 Houston Story on TWIA Tonight

Fox-26 Houston (KRIV) is doing a story for their 5 p.m. news today, April 25, 2013, on the problems facing the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. I was interviewed in connection with the story. Although I spent much of the time engaging the special insurance mythology of the Texas coast, my hope is that this story brings attention to the immediate problems facing both coastal Texans and the rest of the state this summer.  I am very glad at least one Houston media outlet is covering this urgent issue. The legislature may well need some prodding in order to act before the current session expires in 32 days.

Here’s a link to the story.

Unfortunately, it looks like the reporter got an earful of the usual from some coastal residents before interviewing me.  He heard, for example, the myth of how the coast subsidizes the rest of Texas’ hailstorms and tornados so it’s only fair that the rest of Texas subsidizes coastal windstorms.  This is wrong in so many ways. First, Texas does not relieve Northern Texans from paying for the full cost of homeowner insurance by establishing a state-created insurer and saying that, when that insurer runs short, it can hit up people other than policyholders to pay claims and recapitalize the insurer. If and when Texas does this, I’m willing to listen with greater attentiveness to the “we are all in this together” song. For now, I regard it as a guise for geographic wealth redistribution that frequently hurts the poor. Second, while it is true that Texas insurers pay out over the long run a lot in hail and tornado claims, it’s also true that the denominator — the value of property insured along non-coastal Texas — is a lot bigger than the value of property insured along the coast.  So the risk of hail and tornados is not the same as the risk of tropical cyclones. It is less. Third, Texas insurers are permitted by the Insurance Code (544.003(b)) to price on the basis of geographic risk, provided they can establish it is real.  I am aware of no evidence indicating that Texas insurers have not taken advantage of that opportunity and have failed to charge northern Texans a fair risk for the special risks they pose by virtue of the somewhat higher risk of hail and tornados in those regions relative to coastal Texas.  I have never yet seen an actual relevant number from any proponent of the cross subsidization myth.

The reporter also heard the usual comments about how the coast is some exaggerated percentage of the Texas economy. If the only purpose of this remark is to urge legislators to find a good solution to the problems of catastrophe insurance along the Texas coast, I agree 100 per cent.  And the fact that they exaggerate the numbers a little bit might count as a white lie. Usually, however, these utterances with exaggerated percentages are instead justification for continued subsidization — a system, by the way, that has not worked out very well for the coast.

Of course the coast is important to the Texas economy.  No one I know is saying anything to the contrary.  And lest there be any doubt, I agree that the Texas coast is very important to the Texas economy. That’s just another reason that getting its property insurance market in good shape is all the more important.  But first of all to say that it is 40% or 50% of the Texas economy because 40 or 50% of business is indirectly tied to the coast is not the right measure.  Once we start using indirect ties, the total percentages are going to add to way more than 100%. I venture to say that 50% of the Texas economy is tied directly or indirectly to Dallas, and another 50% to Houston and another 40% to Austin and another 40% to San Antonio, and so forth.  But so what? The fact that we are all interdependent is simply not a logical argument that one part of that interdependent system should subsidize another. Probably 100% of the Texas economy is tied to Texas cities. Does that mean that rural folk should subsidize my urban homeowner insurance?

Here are the points I tried to make.  They will be familiar to readers of this blog. I have spoken with this reporter before on other insurance topics and he does a good and fair job whittling down longer comments to the limits of television news.  So, I hope some of them survive.

  • TWIA has just $180 million left in its Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund. It was thought as recently as a few months ago that TWIA would have access to at least $3 billion with which to pay claims. The issue was whether $3 billion was too little.  But after looking at the financial environment and taking a close look at the TWIA finance law, including a possible bug, there is now serious doubt that there will be much more available to pay policyholders than the $180 million in the Catastrophe Reserve Fund.

  • The state is not legally obligated to pay claims if TWIA is insolvent.  If there is a large storm this summer, there is a serious risk that TWIA policyholders will get only pennies on the dollar.

    • What can TWIA policyholders do?

  • (1) Extreme vigilance in protecting their homes.  There are lots of mitigation steps that can be taken, particularly with older homes.  Some need to be taken right now.  Others can be taken if a storm approaches.  But act as if you have a huge copay on your policy

  • (2) Some TWIA policyholders may have alternatives.  It may be more expensive.  Consider whether you want to pay more but sleep better this summer

  • (3) Urge your legislators to treat this problem seriously.  32 days left in session.  Bills pending that address the issue. There is both a short run problem and a long run problem.

     

 

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?

Catrisk will try to live blog the TWIA meeting on March 25, 2013

I’m going to try to live blog the meeting of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association scheduled for 1 p.m. in Austin.  I’ll be doing it remotely since my day job is going to prevent me from traveling to the site of the meeting.  So, if my Internet connection holds up and the TWIA server stays strong, I’ll be providing “instant analysis,” with all its advantages and pitfalls tomorrow.  A first for me and this blog.

Here’s the agenda for the meeting.

 

 

Breaking News: TWIA likely to go into rehabilitation

The Texas Department of Insurance has released a FAQ setting forth what will happen in the event that TWIA is placed into rehabilitation.  Insurance regulators don’t — and shouldn’t — issue unsettling documents like this unless the threat is very real and very imminent.  I’m attaching a plain text version of the document to the end of this post (after the break). I’ve done a tiny bit of formatting to accommodate the blog format.  You can see the original version in PDF format here. Things are moving very fast.  I’ll have some comments on what is going on, but for now I just wanted to apprise interested people of this important development.

Key quotes from the FAQ

  • The Annual Statement shows that, based on additional litigation filed in 2012, TWIA is now insolvent. TWIA’s liabilities exceed its assets by $183 million. Allowing TWIA to continue to operate in this condition could place new policyholders in jeopardy, and could further threaten the current policyholders.
  • “If TWIA’s funds are insufficient to pay all existing claims, it may be necessary for the Rehabilitator to make partial payments on a pro rata basis.”
  • “The hold on claims payments would not apply to losses stemming from storms occurring after TWIA was placed in Rehabilitation.”
  • “TWIA does not currently have any outstanding pre-event public securities.”
  • 18. Would Rehabilitation affect the availability of mortgages in areas covered by TWIA? Rehabilitation would not change TWIA’s ability to issue new policies, renew policies, or fulfill its obligations under current policies. [Note that the question is not actually answered — SJC]

 

Continue reading

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: the plot thickens

Two new pieces of data have emerged on the IBNR problem and any ability or obligation on the part of TWIA to make a supplemental assessment against insurers to pay for claims arising out of 2008’s Hurricane Ike and reduce the odds of TWIA being put into receivership or conservatorship.

1. A learned student has pointed me to section 311.031 of the Texas Government Code. This is a kind of “meta-statute” on how to interpret statutes. It reads:

Sec. 311.031.  SAVING PROVISIONS. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), the reenactment, revision, amendment, or repeal of a statute does not affect:…

(2)  any validation, cure, right, privilege, obligation, or liability previously acquired, accrued, accorded, or incurred under it.

The student suggested that this provision might mean that liabilities acquired under section 2210.058 before it was repealed might persist after its repeal by section 44(2) of HB 4409 enacted in 2009.  Unfortunately, I think my learned student, though brilliant in finding this Government Code provision and thinking it was applicable, is wrong. I don’t think “liability” means the potential for liability.  It means an incurred liability.  Thus, if Allstate had not paid its assessment under the 2008 assessment, the fact that the statute permitting assessments was repealed would not relieve Allstate of its obligation to pay the pre-existing assessment.  It would, however, I think prevent TWIA from creating new liabilities for Allstate to pay.  Again, am I 100% certain of this?  No. But it strikes me that there is a difference between the potential for a liability and a liability itself.

2. Alex Winslow of TexasWatch suggested in an Austin American Statesman article today that TWIA might still be able to assess under the old law.  I don’t always agree with TexasWatch but I take their thoughts seriously.  On balance, however, at least so far, I think he is incorrect. If Texas had not repealed 2210.058, he might have a better case that the law in effect at the time of the disaster permitted late assessments.  But, the legislature repealed the statute authorizing assessments.  Much as it might be appealing to some to at least forestall TWIA implosion, it looks to me, for the reasons cited in this post and its predecessor, as if a supplemental assessment on insurers is not authorized under the law.

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A second look at S.B. 18

 

In a post yesterday, I provided some preliminary analysis of S.B. 18, a bill filed by Texas State Senator John Carona that would completely overhaul the system by which most coastal Texans transfer the risk of windstorm.  Basically, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) is phased out by 2015 as an insurer of residential coastal property and replaced with an assigned risk plan, the Texas Property Insurance Program (TPIP) that will ultimately charge “market” rates and will be administered by a Managing General Agent. In the interim, TWIA finances are shored up with statewide insurance surcharges to build up the catastrophe reserve fund, potential assessments on insurers of $2 billion in the event of a storm, and actual assessments on insurers of whatever it takes to to purchase $2 billion of reinsurance. (Insurers mostly recoup any storm assessments with premium tax credits but do not recoup reinsurance assessments).  Many TWIA policyholders are somewhat protected for a few years by a requirement that TPIP market rates be phased in, with the public effectively paying for the continued subsidization via likely insurer pass throughs and further premium tax credits.

 

The first page of S.B. 18

The first page of S.B. 18

I did a second read this morning and found several matters on which I had not previously focused.  I suspect I and others will find more in the days ahead or find areas in which these findings need clarification or correction.

  1. This particular bill does not appear to touch TWIA’s ability to sell policies that cover property other than residences (either owned or tenanted). Thus, unless I am missing something or there is a companion bill ahead, it appears TWIA will persist as an insurer that offers coastal businesses and government windstorm coverage for commercial structures. and public buildings. Currently, since “non-dwellings” comprise just 1/6 of TWIA’s exposure, such a reduction in the exposure of TWIA would likely make a buttressed catastrophe reserve fund, $2 billion in potential storm assessments, and $2 billion in reinsurance fully adequate to pay the remaining TWIA policyholders even in the worst cases — a welcome change from the status quo. The mandatory migration described in sections 2210.212 and 2210.213 speaks in terms of “residential structures” and “dwellings.” The provisions governing liability limits and deductibles in section 2210.507 likewise speak about residential properties.
  2. The bill does away with the system of post-event bonding that exists under the current law and whose functionality has been called into serious question.  Section 3 of the bill amends section 2210.056 to eliminate the ability of TWIA to use its assets to pay obligations incurred under Subchapter B-1, which is where the authority to actually repay bonds appears. Various other provisions of the bill likewise delete references to the post-event bonding program.
  3. Even during the transition period, TWIA will not be adjusting as many claims on future storms as it is currently required to do. Instead of keeping TWIA on perpetual standby for large scale adjusting requirements following a storm, the bill piggybacks on the claims adjusting stables of the major insurers and requires them to adjust claims on TWIA losses after June 1, 2013 acting as agents for TWIA. (Section 2210.5725).  If a private insurer covers a coastal homeowner for fire but a hurricane damages that homeowner’s residence, it appears as if the private insurer must adjust the claim unless — and I believe this would be quite unusual — that particular insurer provides windstorm coverage on 90% or more of the policies it writes on the coast. Otherwise, I assume TWIA continues to adjust the claim.
  4. It is not clear to me if and how the private insurers get paid for undertaking this expensive obligation or whether this is going to be just a cost of writing conventional property insurance along the coast.  If the latter, be prepared for attempts at rate increases by the private insurers or reduced willingness to sell even conventional policies in that area. I suppose insurers could also recoup these costs if they offered windstorm coverage in addition to conventional coverage.
  5. One upside for undertaking claims adjustment on behalf of TWIA is that, under the Carona bill, private insurers doing so will gain the protections of existing section 2210.014 of the Insurance Code, which protects TWIA from lawsuits brought by policyholders (or other private entities) under the unfair trade practices provision of Chapter 541 of the Insurance Code, which provides for treble damages, and Chapter 542 of the Insurance Code, which imposes penalty interest of 18% for statutorily described delays in claims adjusting. Private insurers adjusting claims on behalf of TWIA also gain the protections of existing section 2210.572 of the Insurance Code, which provides more favorable to them than the otherwise existing substantive and procedural rules in Texas for breach of contract and bad faith claims against an insurer.  Presumably, although it is not clearly stated in the draft Carona bill, they also gain the protections of the rest of Subchapter L-1 of the Insurance Code to which section 2210.572 makes reference. For an earlier discussion of this point, look here.
  6. The Managing General Agent, who basically runs the new insurance program, is neither elected nor appointed in the traditional sense.  Rather the MGA is awarded a contract to run the new TPIP for a period of up to five years. Section 2214.151. There is not much detail in the Carona bill on how the award of this contract is to be made.

 

Corpus Christi Caller details TWIA solvency problems

There’s a worthwhile article in the Corpus Christi Caller written by Rick Spruill. It addresses both the serious funding problem faced by TWIA today and the solutions being developed by coastal legislators and some coastal interest groups.  The article relies extensively from some of the blog entries here at http://catrisk.net, including ones here and here.

I’ve sent an e-mail to Mr. Spruill on the article and want to post that email here.

I agree that this (http://m.caller.com/news/2012/dec/26/texas-windstorm-insurance-association-could-face/) is an intelligent and important article.  Moreover, even though it contains some criticism of what I have said on http://catrisk.net, it is a balanced presentation.  Two comments, neither of which reflect negatively on Mr. Spruill’s article:

1)  I don’t think Todd Hunter’s comment that Chandler “wants TWIA policyholders to pay for everything ” is quite right.  I want TWIA policyholders to pay for a much larger proportion of the losses their insurer is likely to pay and for that coverage to either be real (i.e. backed up by viable financial structures) or for very clear warnings given by TWIA and TDI to policyholders about the probabilities and consequences of TWIA insolvency.  Although in concept I agree that TWIA policyholders should pay for TWIA risks — I understand that there will be a period of transition required. But the direction of the transition should be towards the assumption of responsibility, not towards shirking it.  I would not be averse, for example, to some sort of grants or subsidized credit being made available, for example, for hardening coastal properties (“mitigation”) and would much rather see money from people other than TWIA policyholders going to reduce the scope of the risk rather than used to bail them out after a fairly foreseeable disaster occurs. I agree that our Texas economy is all interconnected and that if the coast were to suffer a hurricane in which a substantial number of policyholders had large claims against an insolvent insurer, it would hardly be only the coast that suffered.

2) The article is correct  that my computations do not take account of the double dip that TWIA policyholders with automobiles (and non-wind policies) would incur. I don’t have the data that would permit quantification of this complication in part because the Zahn Coastal Taskforce plan is not explicit enough about what sort of insurance would be subject to surcharge. I wish I did have the data. If anyone (like TDI) does have relevant data and would share it, I’d be happy to revise my conclusions.  And I will add a caveat to the existing posts reflecting this matter.  I do not think, however, that inclusion of this complication will alter the fundamental conclusions of my analysis.

Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and hopefully hurricane-free New Year.

Study shows Coastal Taskforce Plan requires more than 50% subsidization

The Coastal Taskforce Plan recently endorsed by several coastal politicians would require people other than TWIA policyholders massively to subsidize TWIA — perhaps paying more than 60% of expected losses from tropical cyclones. That is the result of a study I have conducted using hurricane modeling software. As shown in the pie chart below, the study shows that only about 38% of the payouts come from TWIA premiums. The rest comes 26% from Texas insurers, 21% from policyholders of all sorts in 13 coastal counties and Harris County, 8% from insureds located throughout Texas and 7% from the State of Texas itself. These figures are based on running a 10,000 year storm simulation based on data created by leading hurricane modeler AIR and obtained through a public records request.  The figures are also based on my best understanding of the way in which the Coastal Taskforce plan would operate, although certain aspects of the plan remain unclear and additional clarification would help.

Expected Distribution of Sources for TWIA Payouts Due to Losses from Tropical Cyclones

Expected Distribution of Sources for TWIA Payouts Due to Losses from Tropical Cyclones (Sharing)

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Who pays for hurricane losses under the Coastal Windstorm Task Force plan?

The plan put forward by the Coastal Windstorm Task Force led by Charles Zahn  and now endorsed by at least two Texas coastal politicians will likely cause much of the money paid out by the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency to come not from premiums paid by TWIA insureds but from subsidies forcibly exacted from insureds throughout Texas and Texas insurers. Indeed, premiums paid by TWIA insureds may end up amounting to less than half of the money used to pay losses suffered by TWIA policyholders from tropical cyclones.

The chart below is my best understanding as to how the funding structure works.

Coastal Task Force Responsibility Chart Assuming Sharing within Layers

Coastal Task Force Responsibility Chart Assuming Sharing within Layers

The horizontal axis on this graph shows responsibility for each size loss potentially suffered by TWIA  policyholders as the result of a tropical cyclone. The vertical axis on the graph shows the percentage of responsibility.  Thus, non-TWIA policyholders in the 13 coastal counties and Harris County, which is apparently lumped in, pay for significant portions of losses less than about $2.6 billion. Insureds throughout Texas pay via premium surcharges for all losses in excess of about $4.4 billion.  See the little blue rectangles? Those are the relatively small amounts that TWIA policyholders actually pay for tropical cyclone losses. The rest is paid for by people who are not necessarily TWIA insureds. They pay it regardless of whether they are — as will frequently be the case — significantly poorer than people owning homes on the coast and regardless of whether they own a home or not.

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