Insurance Industry Responds to House Approval of NFIP Renewal

Insurance industry trade groups lauded the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote on Nov. 14, reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The 21st Century Flood Reform Act (H.R. 2874) would reauthorize the program for five years and enact operational changes. Advocates from RIMS, the risk management society, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, and SmarterSafer.org also asked that the Senate waste no time in passing its version of the measure before its expiration on Dec. 8.

On Sept. 8, President Trump signed legislation passed by both houses to extend NFIP authorization until Dec. 8, which previously had been set to expire Sept. 30.

Dow Jones reports that the act’s reforms include:

  • Authorizing $1 billion to elevate, buy out or mitigate high-risk properties
  • Capping flood insurance premiums at $10,000 per year for homeowners
  • Removing hurdles to the private flood insurance market, which often offers better coverage at lower cost than the NFIP
  • Providing for community flood maps and a homeowner’s ability to appeal their flood designation
  • Better aligning NFIP rates to match a property’s true risk, particularly for in-land and lower-value properties
  • Improving the claims process for flood victims
  • Addressing repeatedly flooded properties, which account for 2% of NFIP policies but 25% of claim payments

While it applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for deciding to reauthorize the NFIP, RIMS, the risk management society, also urged the Senate to quickly follow-up before the program’s Dec. 8 expiration. Allowing the NFIP to expire would have “significant repercussions, impacting both corporate and residential property owners,” said RIMS Vice President Robert Cartwright Jr.

“Nearly five million American consumers rely on the NFIP to protect their homes, properties, and businesses,” said Nat Wienecke, senior vice president of federal government relations at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “A long-term reauthorization is needed to provide consumers and markets with reliability and stability when it comes to flood insurance coverage.”

SmarterSafer.org, a coalition of taxpayer advocates, environmental groups, insurance interests, housing organizations and mitigation advocates, said in a statement that this year’s “historic hurricane season has pushed the nation’s debt-ridden flood insurance program past the point of bankruptcy once again, so we applaud the House for passing a legislative package that reforms the NFIP to ensure the program is financially sustainable for the future.” The organization also lauded the House for investing in recommended measures including “mapping and mitigation, addressing affordability and providing consumer choice in the flood insurance marketplace.”

The NFIP was created more than 50 years ago to provide affordable flood insurance as private insurers pulled out of the market. The program’s large debt led Congress to cancel $16 billion of its debt last month. NFIP now has about $6 billion to pay claims and $10 billion left that it can borrow from the Treasury Department, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the program.

RIMS Legislative Summit 2017: Focus on Flood

WASHINGTON—The RIMS Legislative Summit kicked off on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. with a panel lead by Congressional office staff.

Panelists included: Democratic Staff in the U.S. House of Representatives; Jason Tuber, Senior Advisor to Senator Menendez (D-NJ); Ed Skala, Deputy Staff Director for the House Financial Services Committee; and Brandon Beall, Professional Staff Member, Office of Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; as well as Lisa Peto, chief counsel for the Financial Services Committee.

The focus was the once-again looming expiration of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The program that was set to expire in September, but was saved with a temporary extension now set to expire again on Dec. 8.

The panelists, each of whom began with the disclaimer that these were their opinions and not the opinions of their office, came to a consensus that a new NFIP was critical, that a gap in coverage is certainly not ideal and they acknowledged that their offices were working on a bi-partisan resolution.

Some of the major concerns discussed were:

  • Funding—who will fund the NFIP? If the NFIP expires or ceases to exist would the burden fall on the taxpayer and then ultimately on government anyway? Should excess flood coverage be privatized? There was also discussion on whether mandating states to offer certain protections for flood exposure would help the situation.
  • Accessibility and Affordability—what measures must be included in the new bill to not only make sure flood insurance is available but that it is available at an affordable price?
  • Residential vs. Commercial—The idea was discussed as to whether there should ultimately be two versions of the NFIP that separate residential and small businesses from large commercial businesses. It was noted that large commercial businesses might have flood coverage elsewhere or are better funded to retain some risk and, as such, should have the opportunity to opt out. This would spur new challenges to determine what qualifies a business as small or large (i.e., an online enterprise that generates considerable revenue but operates out of someone’s basement).
  • Risk Mitigation—Should risk mitigation be a part of the final bill? Incentives for both the insurer and the insured would support organizations that practice good risk management. The argument was made, however, that not all residents and not all businesses have the funds for risk management. For example, not everyone has the money in the bank to raise the height of a house or storefront.

Jim McIntyre, RIMS Washington, D.C. counsel and chair of McIntyre & Lemon stated, “It is probable that we’re looking at another extension come December. Unfortunately for the National Flood Insurance Program, bills regarding trade, healthcare and immigration will take precedent at the moment and [the NFIP] might have to wait a bit longer.”

On Day two of the summit, about 50 RIMS members descended on Capitol Hill for meetings with congressional leaders. The goal was to share RIMS priorities for a long-term National Flood Insurance Program.

Insurers Will Be Found Not Guilty of Fraud in Sandy Payouts, Expert Says

Insurers will be vindicated of accusations of fraud for rejecting flood damage claims made by Superstorm Sandy victims, an insurance industry expert predicts.

New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into accusations against insurers Wright National Flood Insurance Co., units of Travelers Cos. and Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., which contract with the government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), of rejecting property flood damage claims of Sandy victims based on falsified engineering reports, Bloomberg reported this week.

Called a Write Your Own program (WYO), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allows participating property and casualty insurers to write and service the Standard Flood Insurance Policy in their own names.

Under the WYO program, insurers receive an expense allowance for policies written and claims processed while the federal government retains responsibility for underwriting losses. The WYO Program operates as part of the NFIP, and is subject to its rules and regulations, according to FEMA, which oversees the flood insurance program.

“I am confident that the attorney general will be satisfied that insurers involved with the Write Your Own program were operating in a manner consistent with NFIP guidelines,” said Robert P. Hartwig, Ph.D., president of the Insurance Information Institute.

Lawsuits in federal court accuse the insurers of colluding with engineering firms and others to deny or reduce damage payouts based on fraudulent reports. Schneiderman is investigating whether any crimes were committed. According to The Hartford Courant, more than 1,000 lawsuits are involved, alleging that homeowners were underpaid by insurance companies. Attorneys said insurers accepted altered engineering reports in a “peer review” process.

Insurers point out that the property disputes involve only about 1% of all flood claims and that the peer-review process is common practice—a quality control measure to make sure the federal government doesn’t overpay on flood claims.

Regarding the lawsuits that have been filed, Hartwig said, “I am equally confident that the evidence will indicate once again that insurers were operating in a manner consistent with NFIP guidelines.”

He explained that the lawsuits lodged against insurers alleging that certain insurers and firms hired to perform engineering analyses on flood-damaged properties were acting together to reduce or deny claims, “reflect a fundamental  misunderstanding of how the NFIP WYO program works. Engineering firms routinely and appropriately use a peer review process to review work performed. Occasionally, that process leads to additional opinions being reflected in an engineering report, which can thus impact the dollar amount received by claimants. This is part of a routine and necessary quality-control process.”

Hartwig said that this process is “no different than peer review in other technical and scientific disciplines. Using medicine as an example, test results are routinely reviewed by more than one medical professional before a diagnosis and course of treatments are rendered.”

Moreover, he added, insurers and the engineering firms hired are not financially motivated “to pay claimants anything other than a fair and accurate assessment of the losses compensable under the NFIP policy purchased. Insurers that consistently underpay or overpay claims can be removed from the program by the NFIP/FEMA.”

FEMA Releases Premium Guidelines for “High-Risk” Flood Zones

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Insurers have historically used FEMA’s Specific Rating Guidelines to calculate premiums for properties at high risk of flooding, particularly those built with the lowest floor elevation below the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). Prior to the National Flood Insurance Program’s extension in 2012 owners of these properties received subsidized rates well below the true flood risk. Many of these properties will now be rated using the Specific Rating Guidelines which FEMA released to the public last Wednesday.

The use of these new guidelines will undoubtedly result in significantly higher premium rates for many property owners in high risk zones. In its report FEMA stated that people whose properties are four feet below base flood elevation will see premiums totaling $95,000 over a 10-year period. These rates have many property owners and elected officials speaking out strongly against the reforms. Members of the Louisiana congressional delegation, including Senator Mary Landrieu (D), Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D), have urged Congress to pass legislation that will delay or lower the rate increases. “I remain very concerned about the impacts these rate increases will have on homeowners and small businesses throughout our nation,” said Sen. Landrieu. Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., went every further stating that “flood insurance will be unaffordable for home and business owners across coastal and riverine America.”

In its guidelines FEMA did provide suggestions for property owners affected by the rate increases which include elevating the property above base flood level; however, this is often easier said than done. Flood insurance policies in the northeast offered an extra $30,000 to allow owners to elevate properties that had been damaged during Hurricane Sandy, but many property owners found that this amount would not cover all of the costs associated with elevating an entire property several feet above its original base. Other FEMA suggestions include adding flood vents to the property’s foundation, taking on higher deductibles, and working with local officials about community wide mitigation strategies.

The NFIP has become a major point of contention in light of the program’s fiscal crisis which was only exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) went as far as to vow that his committee would take up legislation to privatize the flood insurance market. The program is sure to draw more and more attention as rate increases go into effect October 1, 2013.