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Excess/Surplus

Not So Fast on Any Hard Market

Conditions seem ripe for rates to rise, but overcapacity in excess & surplus and elsewhere hinders hardening.
By: | February 20, 2018 • 6 min read

Underwriting cycles were traditionally characterized by big swings up and down. A few years of declining rates, influx of capacity and limited profitability would reliably give way to a hard market following a big loss event.

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“Historically, we would drive rates into the ground, and then a major event would occur. We would get huge rate increases for 18 to 24 months, but eventually the rates move back down and you give it all back over a few years while you wait for the next big thing to happen,” said Joe Tocco, chief executive, North America, Insurance, XL Catlin.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and that’s always been the way the market moves … But I don’t see those cycles playing out going forward.”

By traditional standards, the havoc wrought by three major hurricanes, an earthquake and ongoing wildfires in the second half of 2017 should be the “big event” that shakes up the market and firms up persistent soft conditions.

But this is not a traditional market. Whereas significant losses in the past may have knocked out some excess & surplus carriers or driven others to pull out of the most-affected lines of business, capacity doesn’t appear to be going anywhere this time around.

Joe Tocco, chief executive, North America, Insurance, XL Catlin

That’s largely due to the presence of so much alternative capital.

According to a Deloitte report detailing the insurance industry outlook for 2018, surplus capital was at an all-time high of $704 billion as of June 30, 2017.  This capital will bear the brunt of the loss as it is tested for the first time.

The market’s claims response will reveal any inadequacies in risk selection and reserving, and the weakest players in excess & surplus could potentially leave the insurance space if they take too heavy a loss.

But the primary market won’t see much disruption.

Lukewarm Rate Rise

“I am not predicting a hard market in the traditional way of rising prices and a lack of capacity in any way, shape or form,” said Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader, Marsh. “We are seeing a push from the market for prices go up but not binding those rates to the degree that the underwriting community had hoped for. A governor on the desired price rise is that capacity continues to be plentiful.”

Ellis reported mid- to high-single digit percentage rate increases across the broker’s book of business. He anticipates those numbers to lift even more but not by a significant amount.

“The industry was at a place where rates were not sustainable. It couldn’t afford much more rate decline. The second half of 2017 merely put a point on that.” — Jeff Beauman, vice president, All-Risk Underwriting, FM Global

That holds true for the excess & surplus market, which has not seen notable post-catastrophe price increases or diminishing capacity, domestically or globally. Global markets in general are not recognizing new rates following last year’s large-scale losses.

“We have not seen the anticipated rate hardening of business emanating from European and international programs,” said Dawn Miller, CEO, AXA Insurance Company. “However, rates have risen on a case-by-case basis in our U.S. portfolio. It appears that this trend could diminish somewhat throughout the year.”

However, Liberty Mutual Global Risk Solutions vice chairman Kevin Kelley reported 15 to 20 percent increases in U.S. property rates, and 5 to 10 percent increases in casualty. Even in lines where rates aren’t jumping, he sees a stabilization in rate decreases.

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“We’ve hit a floor across the board and are seeing a clear change in market sentiment,” he said. “The wind is no longer blowing in our face. I can’t tell you whether it will be a gentle breeze or a strong gale, but it is at our backs now.”

The most affected classes of business will be wood construction multi-family real estate and auto, Ellis said. According to the Insurance Council of Texas, Hurricane Harvey damaged an estimated 250,000 private and commercial vehicles resulting in insured losses as high as $4.75 billion. Other estimates placed the number of damaged vehicles as high as 1 million.

Deloitte’s outlook report also surmised that most premium gains in the year ahead will come from the auto market, which was already experiencing some hardening as loss frequency and severity worsened.

“A lot of markets are just starting to realize the overall impact on their portfolios,” XL Catlin’s Tocco said.

A Transitioning Market

Many of the market adjustments underway began before the 2017 catastrophes. After year-over-year rate declines for more than a decade, something had to give.

“The industry was at a place where rates were not sustainable. It couldn’t afford much more rate decline,” said Jeff Beauman, vice president, All-Risk Underwriting, FM Global. “The second half of 2017 merely put a point on that.”

“In E&S as well as the traditional property markets, you were starting to see pricing trending more favorably prior to the hurricane activity,” Tocco said. “It was the beginning of a transition, and the storms accelerated that transition.

Jeff Beauman, vice president, All-Risk Underwriting, FM Global

Kelley emphasized that insurance leaders have to take the reins in maintaining that acceleration and keeping the market on track.

“Education will be very important,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon leaders like myself to educate our frontline on our performance so they can understand and participate in what has to be done in terms of rate change and other underwriting considerations.

“I think today there are many executives who feel one way about how the market should move, and that needs to be communicated clearly to the front line of underwriters so as not to lag behind.”

Risk and Relationships

Many industry leaders say that 2017’s significant losses will spur a reinvigoration of underwriting discipline.

“When you have long periods without major events — as we had prior to 2017 — underwriters tend to underestimate how much money they need for a certain risk,” Beauman said. He recalled the effects of the 2004-05 hurricane seasons:

“That was the last time there was any significant movement in property rates. We saw such sharp upticks in price, because many carriers didn’t fully understand the risks in their books, and they were surprised by how large the losses were.”

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Heavy losses from 2017 and subsequent rate increases will make underwriters more aware of the risks in their portfolios and more fastidious in maintaining appropriate pricing going forward. That means evaluating each risk for its own merit on an individual basis.

“Pricing risk should really be a function of what a client is doing to protect themselves, more so than what the market is doing,” Beauman said.

The dynamic of the client-insurer relationship will also be subject to some change as market conditions shift.

“It’s been a buyer’s market for many years with pricing going down along with a broadening of terms and conditions,” Marsh’s Ellis said. “As underwriters seek higher rates and we transition away from such a buyer’s market, strong carrier partnerships will matter in arguing for reasonable increases.

Risk managers should meet face-to-face with underwriters early and often to get a good understanding of what changes to expect, so they can message that appropriately within their own firms as well as risk differentiate themselves.

“Over-communicate,” he said. “Nobody likes a surprise.” &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Pharma Under Fire

Opioids Give Rise to Liability Epidemic

Opioids were supposed to help. Instead, their addictive power harmed many, and calls for accountability are broadening.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 8 min read

The opioid epidemic devastated families and flattened entire communities.

The Yale School of Medicine estimates that deaths are nearly doubling annually: “Between 2015 and 2016, drug overdose deaths went from 33,095 to 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States. That number is expected to continue unabated for the next   several years.”

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That’s roughly 160 deaths every day — and it’s a count that’s increasing daily.

In addition to deaths, the number of Americans struggling with an opioid disorder disease (the official name for opioid addiction) is staggering.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 2 million people in the United States suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and roughly one-third of those people will “graduate” to heroin addiction.

Conversely, 80 percent of heroin addicts became addicted to opioids after being prescribed opioids.

As if the human toll wasn’t devastating enough, NIDA estimates that addiction costs reach “$78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”

Shep Tapasak, managing principal, Integro Insurance Brokers

With numbers like that, families are not the only ones left picking up the pieces. Municipalities, states, and the federal government are strained with heavy demand for social services and crushing expenditures related to opioid addiction.

Despite the amount of money being spent, services are inadequate and too short in duration. Wait times are so long that some people literally die waiting.

Public sector leaders saw firsthand the range and potency of the epidemic, and were among the first to seek a legal reckoning with the manufacturers of  synthetic painkillers.

Seeking redress for their financial burden, some municipalities, states and the federal government filed lawsuits against big pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers. To date, there are more than 100 lawsuits on court dockets.

States such as Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Arkansas have been hit hard by the epidemic. In Arkansas alone, 72 counties, 15 cities, and the state filed suit, naming 65 defendants. In Pennsylvania, 16 counties, Philadelphia, and Commonwealth officials have filed lawsuits.

Forty one states also have banded together to subpoena information from some drug manufacturers.

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, recently told reporters that the banded effort seeks to “change corporate behavior, so that the industry can no longer do what I think it’s been doing, which is turning a blind eye to the effects of dumping these drugs in the communities.”

The volume of legal actions is growing, and some of the Federal cases have been bound together in what is called multidistrict litigation (MDL). These cases will be heard by a judge in Ohio. Plaintiffs hope for a settlement that will provide funding to be used to help thwart the opioid epidemic.

“From a societal perspective, this is obviously a big and impactful issue,”  said Jim George,  a managing director and global claims head with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. “A lot of people are suffering in connection with this, and it won’t go away anytime soon.

“Insurance, especially those in liability, will be addressing this for a long time. This has been building over five or six years, and we are just now seeing the beginning stages of liability suits.” 

Basis for Lawsuits

The lawsuits filed to date are based on allegations concerning: What pharma knew or didn’t know; what it should have known; failure to monitor size and frequency of opioid orders, misrepresentation in marketing about the addictive nature of opioids; and false financial disclosures.

Opioid manufacturers, distributors and large drugstore chains together represent a $13 billion-a-year industry, meaning the stakes are high, and the pockets deep. Many have compared these lawsuits to the tobacco suits of the ’90s.

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But even that comparison may pale. As difficult as it is to quit smoking, that process is less arduous than the excruciating and often impossible-to-overcome opioid addiction.

Francis Collins, a physician-geneticist who heads the National Institutes of Health, said in a recorded session with the Washington Post: “One really needs to understand the diabolical way that this particular set of compounds rewires the brain in order to appreciate how those who become addicted really are in a circumstance where they can no more [by their own free will] get rid of the addiction than they can get free of needing to eat or drink.”

“Pharma and its supply chain need to know that this is here now. It’s not emerging, it’s here, and it’s being tried. It is a present risk.” — Nancy Bewlay, global chief underwriting officer for casualty, XL Catlin

The addiction creates an absolutely compelling drive that will cause people to do things against any measure of good judgment, said Collins, but the need to do them is “overwhelming.”

Documented knowledge of that chemistry could be devastating to insureds.

“It’s about what big pharma knew — or should have known.  A key allegation is that opioids were aggressively marketed as the clear answer or miracle cure for pain,” said Shep Tapasak, managing principal, Integro Insurance Brokers.

These cases, Tapasak said, have the potential to be severe. “This type of litigation boils down to a “profits over people” strategy, which historically has resonated with juries.”

Broadening Liability

As suits progress, all sides will be waiting and watching to see what case law stems from them. In the meantime, insurance watchers are predicting that the scope of these suits will broaden to include other players in the supply chain including manufacturers, distribution services, retail pharmacies, hospitals, physician practices, clinics, clinical laboratories and marketing agencies.

Litigation is, to some extent, about who can pay. In these cases, there are several places along the distribution chain where plaintiffs will seek relief.

Nancy Bewlay, global chief underwriting officer for casualty, XL Catlin

Nancy Bewlay, XL Catlin’s global chief underwriting officer for casualty, said that insurers and their insureds need to pay close attention to this trend.

“Pharma and its supply chain need to know that this is here now. It’s not emerging, it’s here, and it’s being tried. It is a present risk,” she said.

“We, as insurers who identify emerging risks, have to communicate to clients. We like to be on the forefront and, if we can, positively influence the outcome for our clients in terms of getting ahead of their risks.”

In addition to all aspects of the distribution chain, plaintiffs could launch suits against directors and officers based on allegations that they are ultimately responsible for what the company knew or should have known, or that they misrepresented their products or signed off on misleading financial statements.

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Shareholders, too, could take aim at directors and officers for loss of profits or misleading statements related to litigation.

Civil litigation could pave the way, in some specific instances, for criminal charges. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who in 2015 became the first state attorney general to file suit against a prescription drug maker, has been quoted as saying that if evidence in civil suits points to criminal behavior, he won’t hesitate to file those charges as well.

Governing, a publication for municipalities and states, quoted Hood in late 2017 as saying, “If we get into those emails, and executives are in the chain knowing what they’ve unleashed on the American public, I’m going to kick it over to a criminal lawsuit. I’ve been to too many funerals.”

Insurers and insureds can act now to get ahead of this rising wave of liability.

It may be appropriate to conduct a review of policy underwriting and pricing. XL Catlin’s Bewlay said, “We are not writing as if everyone is a pharma manufacturer. Our perception of what is happening is that everyone is being held accountable as if they are the manufacturer.

“The reality is that when insurers look at the pharma industry and each part of the supply chain, including the pharma companies, those in the chain of distribution, transportation, sales, marketing and retail, there are different considerations and different liabilities for each. This could change the underwriting and affect pricing.”

Bewlay also suggests focusing on communications between claims teams and underwriters and keeping a strong line of communication open with insureds, too.

“We are here to partner with insureds, and we talk to them and advise them about this crisis. We encourage them to talk about it with their risk managers.”

Tapasak from Integro encourages insureds to educate themselves and be a part of the solution. “The laws are evolving,” he said. “Make absolutely certain you know your respective state laws. It’s not enough to know about the crisis, you must know the trends. Be part of the solution and get as much education as possible.

“Most states have ASHRM chapters that are helping their members to stay current on both passed and pending legislation. Health care facilities and providers want to do the right thing and get educated. And at the same time, there will likely be an uptick in frivolous claims, so it’s important to defend the claims that are defensible.”

Social Service Risk

In addition to supply chain concerns, insurers and insureds are concerned that even those whose mission it is to help could be at risk.

Hailed as a lifesaver, and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drug Naloxone, can be administered to someone who is overdosing on opioids.  Naloxone prevents overdose by blocking opioid receptor sites and reversing the effects of the overdose.

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Some industry experts are concerned that police and emergency responders could incur liability after administering Naloxone.

But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “From a legal standpoint, it would be extremely difficult to win a lawsuit against an officer who administers Naloxone in good faith and in the course of employment. … Such immunity applies to … other professional responders.”

Especially hard hit are foster care agencies, both by increased child placements and stretched budgets. More details in our related coverage.

While the number of suits is growing and their aim broadening, experts think that some good will come of the litigation. Settlements will fund services for the addicted and opioid risk awareness is higher than ever. &

Mercedes Ott is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]