Pandemic backstop, flood cover prime election concerns for insurers

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    Reprints

    2020 election

    Amid a polarizing and fiercely fought presidential election campaign, several issues of concern to the property/casualty insurance industry could be influenced by the final result.

    With record numbers of Americans expected to vote in the 2020 election, and control of the White House and the Senate in the balance, industry representatives say initiatives such as a proposed backstop for future pandemic risks, the reform of the federal flood insurance program and the resilience of likely infrastructure projects, could all be affected by next week’s vote.

    “When we entered 2020, the top issue that was brought to my attention from our members centered around social inflation and increasing costs of litigation,” said Jimi Grande, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies in Washington.

    Instead, the agenda is now dominated by “a lot of issues specific to COVID,” Mr. Grande said. “How do we insure against pandemic going forward — that conversation started almost immediately.”

    Proposals for a government backstop for pandemic risks, including the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020, which was modeled on the federal terrorism insurance backstop widely referred to as TRIA, have been discussed over the past several months.

    While it is possible to design and construct a plan to insure pandemic risks, “you’ve got to go into it with your eyes open,” Mr. Grande said.

    A program that would cover every business in the United States would be “greatly subsidized by taxpayers” and could cost some $3 trillion to $4 trillion, he said.

    Pandemic risk will be a future issue, said Joel Wood, senior vice president of government affairs for the Washington-based Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers.

    “It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the issue of pandemic business interruption coverage is going to be next year,” although “for a few months it looked like something that could get passed in the lame duck Congress,” he said.

    An existing government insurance program that has seen reform efforts in the past is the National Flood Insurance Program.

    Reform of the program, which was reauthorized for a year earlier this month, has been at a stalemate for the past couple of years, said Nat Wienecke, senior vice president of federal government relations for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association in Washington. The election, he said, “will present an opportunity to engage on flood insurance.”

    Mr. Wienecke said that while there may not be “massive reforms to the program,” there are opportunities to improve it.

    Sometimes geography is more important than party affiliation regarding government programs, said Charles Symington, senior vice president of the Independent Agents & Brokers of America Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia.

    Members of Congress who represent districts subject to floods, for instance, are more likely to support the NFIP, regardless of their party affiliation, he said.

    One issue that will likely arise next year is infrastructure projects, Mr. Wienecke said.

    “Regardless of outcome, I think Congress does a big infrastructure build next year,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities inside an infrastructure bill to help promote more resiliency in construction.”

    Tort reform, though, which is another issue of concern to the insurance sector, will likely be influenced by the election.

    Liability relief for business is “much more difficult to achieve” in a Democrat environment, said Mr. Wood of the CIAB. 

    “There’s definitely an overarching fealty to the trial bar by the majority of Democratic members of Congress, and we worry about all kinds of legislation that could be lurking in new rights of action,” he said.

    Meanwhile, with a rising number of states adopting medical and recreational use of cannabis, issues such as impairment standards have become a “unifying issue” for the insurance industry, Mr. Wienecke said.

    Currently, he said, “there is no way to know from an employment perspective” what those standards are, and research on the topic has been blocked by legal conflicts.