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Life Health > Life Insurance

ACLI 2012: Fiscal cliff, election forecasts, inside the Supreme Court and more

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Here are some bullet points from attending two days of sessions during the American Council of Life Insurers 2012 Annual Conference, held Oct. 21-23 in Washington D.C.:

  • ACLI President and CEO Governor Dirk Kempthorne told attendees during Monday morning’s general session that the total face amount of “in-force” life insurance coverage today is $19 trillion, more than the country’s entire $15 trillion economy or $16 trillion national debt. “If Americans followed the advice of financial experts and had life insurance equal to seven times their annual earnings, Americans would own $50 trillion in life insurance,” Kempthorne said. He continued to say there is room for the industry to grow and it is in the nation’s interest for it to do so. “But, to accomplish our mission, we have to be regulated as life insurers, not banks. Regulation must reflect the long-term nature of the risks we assume. Bank-centric regulation is inappropriate for us and therefore, bad for our customers.” Kempthorne went on to say the federal government needs to be reminded “that we are a source of Americans’ financial security, not a source of revenue. 75 million families are playing by the rules – rules that are working very well. They are protecting their financial futures with our products. You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.”
  • Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin told Monday general session attendess that no deal to avoid the fiscal cliff will happen during the lame duck session – Congress has no motivation to act before January. But the pressure will be on in 2013, and if they fail to make a deal, markets will react and it won’t be pretty. Holtz-Eakin said the failure of Congress to do its ordinary business has really hurt Washington.
  • During Monday morning’s state legislative panel breakout, California State Assemblyman Jose Solorio told the audience that 62 percent of Californians who work in the private sector do not participate in a retirement plan at work. The number spikes to 84 percent for those working at companies with fewer than 20 employees. That’s why California is considering a state-run pension program mandating participation by any employer that does not currently offer a plan to employees where 3 percent would be deducted from paychecks into a state-run IRA. “We need to do something or eventually we’re going to have to subsidize their retirement,” Solorio said during the panel discussion. Fellow panelists from New York, Alabama and Texas said they would not support such a state program, but are always interested in looking at what they can do to encourage the private sector to offer retirement programs.
  • During the same session, Alabama State Representative Greg Wren lamented the fact that state legislators have been excluded from federal policy discussions such as Dodd-Frank, yet the state legislators are the ones who have to implement these new regulations in their respective states. “Don’t exclude us from the conversation anymore,” Wren said. “Allow us to participate.”
  • CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, during his “Inside the secret world of the Supreme Court” lunch presentation on Monday: whoever wins the presidential election, the president will likely get to appoint one Supreme Court Justice during the next four years. If Romney wins, Justice Scalia will likely leave. If Obama wins, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will likely leave. Toobin says the Justices are keenly aware of who the president is and won’t leave unless the “right” president can appoint their successor. If it did not happen this way, Toobin mentioned a scenario where if Justice Scalia were to leave and President Obama were to replace him, Roe vs. Wade affirmation becomes more solid. If Justice Ginsberg were to leave and be replaced by someone Romney were to appoint, Roe vs. Wade could get overturned at the earliest opportunity. Toobin noted how former Justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter, both appointed by Republican presidents, gradually became alienated with the direction of the modern Republican party and willingly gave up their seats at the Supreme Court to Democratic presidents.
  • Toobin also said Chief Justice John Roberts does not want the Court to be seen as partisan, which may have been behind his decision to uphold PPACA.
  • The Unclaimed Property situation may be cooling down, despite Monday’s announcement about AIG becoming the fifth insurer to settle with state insurance regulators regarding the handling of unclaimed property. Unclaimed property was a frequent topic of discussion at the ACLI meeting, and speakers noted that the tone of the announcements has “softened a bit,” and auditors are finding that by and large, insurers are paying beneficiaries. While one settlement after another may continue to trickle in over the coming months, as auditors increasingly find fewer and fewer problems with insurers’ handling of unclaimed property, the audits will evaporate.
  • According to The Wall Street Journal‘s Leslie Scism, the life insurance industry didn’t get much attention in the publication in the 1990s and early 2000s because of the prevalence of mutuals, whereas the Journal tended to focus on publicly traded companies. And the Journal‘s editors thought the industry was dull.
  • The other two panelists in Scism’s Tuesday session, “The Life Insurance Industry from a Journalist’s Perspective,” Mary Beth Franklin of Investment News and Linda Stern of Thomson Reuters, both expressed great fear about consumers’ ability to pay for long-term care as boomers age, not to mention how the large premium increases are affecting pools of insureds.
  • Political commentator Stuart Rothenberg, who will be a part of PBS’ election night coverage, told Tuesday luncheon attendees at ACLI that the presidential election is too close to call with the campaigns feverishly going after undecided voters in the seven swing states, and that coveted independent voters seem to be splitting evenly so far. He also expects the House to remain Republican and the Democrats to hold the Senate.
  • The 2013 ACLI meeting will be held Oct. 27-29 in New Orleans.