Group Life Coalition Reports New Energy In Battle To Extend TRIA

by Arthur D. Postal

Washington

There is new energy in the battle to extend the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act in the wake of the loss of life in the bombings of the London transportation system, a representative of the industry’s Group Life Coalition believes.

“Senators are aware of the issue; the volume is up,” said Ed Harper, a senior vice president of public and governmental affairs at Assurant, formerly known as Fortis, and head of the Group Life Coalition and the American Council of Life Insurers’ Group Life Task Force. Harper is based in Washington, D.C.

Harper would not comment on the fact that group life was only minimally mentioned in the recent Treasury Department report on the issue, released on June 30, and that the industry was disappointed that the report was not more encouraging to extension of TRIA, which expires Dec. 31. The industry’s position is that the program should be extended intact for two more years and that group life insurance should be included explicitly. The Treasury report says that the program worked and lays out guidelines for what Treasury would support going forward. But it declined to state outright support for such an extension.

But, Harper said that as a result of the London attacks members of Congress “are paying more attention to the TRIA issues and are acting more aware that the program as currently exists is scheduled to expire Dec. 31. The issue has moved from the academic to the emotional.”

Philmore Anderson, a Washington lobbyist with DC Navigators, agreed with Harper. “I think it is human nature that as the event fades, interest declines. But, clearly, the urgency is back.”

Harper and Anderson commented even as a hearing on TRIA was taking place on July 13 before the House Financial Services Committee in which Treasury Secretary John Snow testified (see story on page 6). The Senate Financial Services Committee held a July 14 hearing on the issue.

Moreover, the group life industry also has been re-energized in its efforts to have Congress include group life insurance in any new program. The group life industry began work late in its efforts to be included in the original bill, passed in November 2002. The best it could get was language asking the Treasury Department to look into the issue.

In response, the Treasury declined, saying there was adequate availability of group life coverage even though the industry argued that in the wake of 9/11, group life carriers had found themselves unable to reinsure their group life risk.

This time, group life insurers are far more organized. Harper and Anderson said that the property/casualty insurance industry will support group life’s efforts to be included in an extension of TRIA. Furthermore, it has prepared a brochure to be given to members of Congress voicing interest in the issue, which includes results of an updated report on “Group Life Insurance, Terrorism Risk and the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act.”

Harper also pointed out a resolution recently passed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners urging inclusion of group life in an extended TRIA (see NU, June 20). Harper said that while many insurance commissioners had voiced support for inclusion of group life in a government-sponsored terrorism insurance program, the resolution marked the first time all commissioners had dealt with the issue, and they passed the resolution unanimously. Harper also noted that because of what it felt was the urgency of the issue, the NAIC short-circuited its usual deliberative process on such resolutions and dealt with it promptly.

The report on group life being circulated to members of Congress and other decision-makers was prepared by Milliman, Inc. of Portland, Maine, on behalf of the Group Life Coalition. It draws heavily on a recent survey of group life underwriters that was designed by Milliman and conducted by LIMRA International, Hartford, Conn.

The report says that group life insurance policies cover 160 million Americans, and for many, it is their only insurance. At a briefing, Harper, Anderson and other group life industry officials pointed out that many of those who are covered are first-responders to terrorism events, such as police, firefighters, transit employees and those who work in high profile buildings.

The report says that the group life catastrophic reinsurance market has “not come back post-9/11.” It adds that, “Conversely, the reinsurance market has begun to return for TRIA-supported workers’ compensation.

“Thus, there is evidence that TRIA did not retard the market’s development but rather enhanced it,” the report concludes.

The report also noted the similarities between workers’ compensation insurance and group life, chief among them that both lines are characterized by concentrations of risk. “Workers’ compensation is mandated by state law for virtually all employees and group life insurance is offered to almost all employees,” the report says. Both lines of insurance are very competitive. State departments of insurance do not allow exclusions for terrorism. Both lines are an integral part of the product package sold by private companies.”

As Anderson pointed out, “Group life is caught in a vice grip of high concentration of risk and no reinsurance.” Anderson explained that if group life is not included, given the growing concern about terrorism, it is likely to lead to more expensive coverage, the decision by many individuals to not take it and companies to not offer it, and, tragically if there is attack, insurance insolvencies that are likely to result in minimum payments to victims and their families. Anderson also said that under TRIA there is a threshold for government involvement and a payback scheme even if the government pays some losses.

If such a program doesn’t exist for group life and there is a tragic event, then there is also the possibility, as in 9/11, a pressured government will create a compensation system for victims–a program with no government involvement.

Anderson also pointed out that Bush administration economists are well aware that a terrorist attack is the primary threat to a healthy economy, the administration’s priority.

“We’re prepared to work with Congress to find the right balance,” Anderson said. “In the past, we haven’t told our story aggressively. But this time, we’re determined to be sure in this TRIA process that Congress acts to protect the financial security of working Americans–160 million of them–who have group life insurance as their sole source of protection.”

‘Senators are aware of the issue. The volume is up.’