Fire deaths in Mississippi rise in 2018

(Jackson, MS – Insurance News 360) – Seventy nine individuals died from fire-related issues in 2018 across the state of Mississippi; the State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) investigated 74 of those cases and local agencies investigated the others. This is an increase from 56 deaths in 2017 and 53 investigations by the SFMO.

This is a 36 percent increase, but State Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Ricky Davis does not call this a record-breaking number.

“As recently as 2006, the SFMO has investigated upwards of 100 fire deaths,” Davis said. ”In fact, in the last five years, we’ve significantly lowered the number of preventable fire deaths across the state. I can’t say specifically why the numbers are higher this year, but in a majority of these cases, a working smoke alarm could have saved lives.”

Of the 74 deaths investigated by SFMO, nearly 40 cases showed that there was no working smoke alarm.

State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney notes that a dozen cases involved the presence of non-working smoke alarms.  “It’s upsetting because these fires were preventable, and in every one of these cases, a life could have been saved,” Chaney said. “The State Fire Marshal Office doesn’t just investigate after a fire has occurred. Our educators are out working in communities and schools every day.”

The SFMO urges people to install and maintain smoke alarms, make escape plans specific to their homes, and keep lighters away from children’s reach.

Electrical fires top the list, linked with 21 deaths. There were 13 cases where a cause for the fire could not be determined.

Source: Mississippi Insurance Department.

Tennessee residents get millions back through mediation

(Nashville, TN – Insurance News 360) – The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance returned or located more than $17.9 million in 2019 through mediation and recovery of lost life insurance benefits, the department announced on Jan. 10.

Tennessee residents received more than $5.6 million through mediation, where TDCI insurance investigators worked with insurance companies and policy holders to overturn and pay wrongfully denied claims. In 2017, consumers received more than $6.5 million through those efforts.

Additionally, $11,695,834 in life insurance benefits was located in 2018 through the Life Insurance Policy Locator Service. This free service, which is provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) via TDCI’s Insurance Division, assists consumers in finding insurance policies or annuities for deceased loves ones. In 2017, nearly $3 million was returned to consumers through the Life Insurance Policy Locator Service.

“I’m proud of the efforts this year by our Insurance Division to help deserving consumers get the benefits of their insurance coverages,” said TDCI Commissioner and NAIC Past President Julie Mix McPeak. “We encourage Tennesseans to always remember to call our team with questions about their insurance coverages or to learn what resources may be available.”

In addition to the Department’s mediation and recovery efforts, the Insurance Division levied over $600,000 in civil penalties through disciplinary actions taken on behalf of Tennessee consumers against licensees who were found to be in violation of state insurance laws.

TDCI encourages consumers to contact the Department if they feel they have been unjustly denied a claim, if they have experienced unlicensed or unlawful activity, or even if they have a question or concern about their insurance policies.

If you have questions about insurance, visit the department’s website or call 1-800-342-4029 or (615) 741-2218.

Source: Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance.

Vermont Department of Financial Regulation and Secretary of State Collaborate on Captive Insurance Blockchain Pilot

(Montpelier, VT – Insurance News 360) – Vermont Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak and Secretary of State Jim Condos on Jan. 9 signed a memorandum of understanding regarding a collaboration to explore blockchain technology and its use in digital record keeping practices of the captive insurance industry.

The next day the two offices issued a request for information to identify vendors who may work with Vermont to create a pilot program allowing new captive insurance companies to register with the Secretary of State’s office using blockchain technology.

The program is meant to test the functionality of blockchain in the state’s regulatory processes. It will include a review and revision of relevant statutes, rules, regulations and bulletins to ease implementation.

“Developments in technology provide opportunities for government to improve efficiency and transparency, cut red tape, and improve services for Vermonters,” said Secretary Condos. “This pilot will allow us to examine whether or not the application of blockchain technology for digital recordkeeping can improve aspects of the state regulatory process.”

Blockchain or similar digital ledger technology is designed to create a transparent and validated record of transactions, while providing increased efficiency, accuracy, and security for users when compared to traditional recordkeeping methods.

“Financial services firms are innovating at lightning speed and regulators have an obligation to keep up,” said Commissioner Pieciak. “This partnership with the Secretary of State provides a great opportunity for our teams to become better acquainted with distributed ledger technology and understand how the state and Vermont businesses might benefit.”

Vermont is the world-wide leader in captive insurance by premium written and third in the world by active licenses.

The pilot program will help the state identify areas where the use of blockchain technology in regulatory and other government business may increase data security and reduce costs for residents and those doing business in Vermont.

The adoption of this emerging technology may yield significant benefits such as more efficient administration of their respective duties while maximizing taxpayer value for Vermont’s citizens.

Questions related to the RFI are due on January 24, 2019 and the RFI is due on February 14, 2019.

Connect with the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation on Twitter, Facebook, and on our website.

Source: Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

Arch Insurance Company, National Untion Fire Company must provide $8 million in rebates; must pay $2.2. million in fines

(New York, NY – Insurance News 360) – New York Financial Services Superintendent Maria T. Vullo announced a combined $2.2 million in fines against Arch Insurance Company (Arch) and National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA (National Union Fire), and ordered the insurers to issue $8 million in retroactive rebates after violating state insurance law.

Separate DFS investigations through the Department of Financial Services revealed that both insurers did not satisfy required minimum loss ratio standards in blanket accident and health insurance policies issued to hundreds of New York volunteer firefighter districts, departments and companies, and that National Union Fire charged premium rates that were not filed with DFS.  The violations resulted in the New York volunteer firefighter companies being overcharged premiums in the aggregate amount of nearly $8 million.

“Insurers doing business in New York must comply with New York insurance laws and regulations and those who don’t will be held accountable for their actions,” said Superintendent Vullo.  “Today DFS is holding both Arch Insurance Company and National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA responsible for their respective compliance failures, which directly resulted in New York volunteer firefighter companies paying insurance premiums for coverage that did not bear a reasonable relationship to the benefits provided under the policies.”

Between 2011 and 2017, Arch issued 3,332 blanket accident and health insurance policies to 628 New York firefighter companies, and failed to comply with the minimum loss ratio standard required by New York insurance regulation which provides that the premiums must be reasonable in relation to the claims paid under a policy. As a result, the volunteer firefighter companies were overcharged premiums in the aggregate amount of $5.3 million during the period.

Under the Jan. 10 consent order, Arch will pay DFS a million dollar fine and provide rebates to every New York firefighter company, reflective of the company’s portion of the $5.3 million minimum loss ratio shortfall. Arch will also give an up-to-date summary of corrective actions they have taken, and will report to DFS by May 1, 2019 information containing experience data for every blanket accident and health policy form issued in the previous calendar year to volunteer firefighter companies in the state, for the next five years

The investigation of National Union Fire showed that National Union Fire, from 2015-2017, failed to comply with minimum loss ratio standards required by the state. Also, between 2015 and 2018, the company charged premium rates on blanket accident and health policies issued to New York firefighter companies but did not file them with DFS.  This failure to maintain minimum loss ratios in compliance with Insurance Law   resulted in certain New York volunteer firefighter companies being overcharged  premiums in the aggregate amount of $1,571,704. The insurer’s failure to use the premium rates on file with DFS resulted in certain firefighter companies being overcharged premiums in the aggregate amount of $1,213,640.

Under the consent order, National Union Fire  will submit blanket accident and health policy forms and premium rates for DFS’s review and approval that will replace all existing coverage issued to New York volunteer firefighter companies; send notice to the impacted companies of their retroactive rebates; and by March 15, 2019, provide proof to DFS that each affected volunteer firefighter company has been provided retroactive rebates reflective of the company’s portion of the $1,571,704 minimum loss ratio shortfall.

In addition, National Union Fire will pay DFS a fine of $1.2 million and provide retroactive rebates to each affected New York firefighter company reflective of the company’s portion of the $1,213,640 for the use of unapproved premium rates.  National Union Fire will also provide to DFS an up-to-date, detailed summary of corrective actions taken, and will report to DFS by May 1, 2019 for the next five years containing experience data for each blanket accident and health policy form issued to New York volunteer firefighter companies during the prior calendar year.

A copy of the Arch Insurance Company consent order can be found here.

A copy of the National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA consent order can be found here.

Source: New York Department of Financial Services.

Missouri residents are affected by large bills and aggressive collection tactics after using air ambulance providers

(Jefferson City, MO – Insurance News 360) – Missouri residents are affected by large bills and aggressive collection tactics after using air ambulance providers, according to a report released on Jan. 8, 2019,  by the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP).

The DIFP initiated a data call for insurers in the state and analyzed fully-insured health coverage under the department’s regulatory purview. The result is that they uncovered an estimated $25.7 million billed for air ambulance services in 2017, a potential for a maximum of $12.4 million in balance-billing for Missouri residents. The report revealed that residents with private insurance have been balanced billed for more than $100,000; and that many air ambulance providers do not participate in many health insurance provider networks.

Some air ambulance providers engage in aggressive collection efforts to collect amounts not paid by private health insurers, including filing lawsuits and placing liens on homes.  A quick search of Missouri’s court records returned over 184 records since 2012 for one of Missouri’s largest air ambulance providers. The four most legally active providers together had 427 actions over the same time period, with recoveries commonly in the tens of thousands of dollars.

“With air ambulance bills, Missourians are subjected to extremely aggressive collection efforts, at a time when they are quite vulnerable as they are already recovering from a medical emergency”, said Director Chlora Lindley-Myers. “We hope this report illustrates to state and federal policymakers the scope and seriousness of this problem and the need for urgent action.”

In investigating complaints regarding air ambulances, the Department’s jurisdiction is limited to fully insured health plans, covering approximately 1.2 million Missourians in 2017.  The Department has no authority to assist consumers who are covered under self-funded group health plans, which cover approximately 1.9 million Missourians.

The investigations ensure that the insurer is in compliance with relevant state insurance laws as well as their own contractual language.  The Department also is, in many instances, unable to assist consumers who have been saddled with unpaid air ambulance bills when the insurers’ actions do not clearly run afoul of insurance regulatory standards. States generally have very limited regulatory authority over air ambulances in general.

Air ambulance services are governed by the federal Aviation Deregulation Act (ADA) of 1978, which carved out broad federal preemptions to state regulation of aviation.  The act specifies that states may not regulate in any way the “price, route or service of an air carrier.”  The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has been engaged on this issue and in working with members of Congress to find ways to protect consumers from the financial devastation of air ambulance balance bills.

Source: Missouri Department of Insurance.

Minnesota Commerce Department investigation reveals Frontier Communications failure to provide adequate, reliable service

(Saint Paul, MN – Insurance News 360) – On Jan. 4, the Minnesota Commerce Department filed an investigative report with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission alleging a failure by Frontier Communications to provide adequate, reliable phone and internet service to customers in Minnesota.

The report suggests that the company be made to refund or credit customers for service outages and unauthorized charges; the company should also add customer service staff, and invest in infrastructure and equipment to better the level of services provided.

The investigation focused on the service quality, customer service and billing practices of Frontier Communications of Minnesota, Inc., and its affiliate, Citizens Telecommunications of Minnesota, LLC. Those companies provide landline phone service to almost 100,000 Minnesota homes and businesses, and internet service in northeastern and southern Minnesota, as well as the Twin Cities metro area.

SEven public hearings occurred throughout Frontier’s service area, and the report is based on more than 1,000 consumer complaints and statements, as well as the company’s responses to questions and request from the Commerce Department.

The investigative report details a wide range of concerns about Frontier:

Frequent and lengthy service outages, including loss of customer access to 911 emergency services;

Delays in repairing and restoring service;

Failure to provide expedited responses to service outages affecting vulnerable customers with medical needs;

Failure to maintain and repair equipment, causing service outages and leading to public safety hazards such as lines and damaged equipment on the ground;

Lack of investment in infrastructure to ensure reliable service;

Frequent billing errors, including inaccurate and unauthorized charges;

Failure to provide refunds or bill credits for service outages;

Lack of timely, responsive customer service, including lengthy call wait times, inaccurate information and “lost” repair tickets; and

Discriminatory practices such as prioritizing new service installations over repairs of existing service and providing slower repair services in rural areas compared to more populated areas.

The report is available on the Minnesota Commerce Department website (mn.gov/commerce). It is also available on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission website (mn.gov/puc). Click on the eDockets link to go to the search page and then type 18-122 for the docket number.

Source: Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Hayashida named Hawaii Insurance Commissioner

(Honolulu, HI – Insurance News 360) – Colin M. Hayashida was named Hawaii insurance commissioner, according to an announcement issued on Jan. 3. Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Catherine P. Awakuni Colon made the appointment, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

“I’m honored to have this opportunity and look forward to undertaking the important role of overseeing and supporting Hawaii’s insurance marketplace,” said Hayashida. “With ongoing federal healthcare reform and the impacts of natural disasters in the state, the insurance industry remains fluid with significant issues that we must monitor and navigate. The Insurance Division and its dedicated staff have consistently risen to the challenges before them, and it is my goal to maintain this level of commitment and service to Hawaii and its residents.”

Starting in 2000, Hayashida worked in various analytical jobs within the Insurance Division. Since 2011, he served as the insurance rate and policy analysis manager.

Source: Hawaii Insurance Department.

California Insurance Commissioner issues rule prohibiting gender discrimination in vehicle insurance rates

(Sacramento, CA – Insurance News 360) – On Jan. 3, California Insurance Commisioner Dave Jones issued regulations that prohibit use of gender to determine private automobile insurance ratings. The Gender Non-Discrimination in Automobile Insurance Rating Regulation went into effect on Jan. 1.

The Gender Non-Discrimination in Automobile Insurance Rating Regulation requires all automobile insurance companies operating in California to file a revised class plan that eliminates the use of gender as a rating factor.

“My priority as Insurance Commissioner is to protect all California consumers, and these regulations ensure that auto insurance rates are based on factors within a driver’s control, rather than personal characteristics over which drivers have no control,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

Source: California Insurance Department.

Delaware Insurance Department Approves Genworth Acquisition by China Oceanwide

(Dover, DE – Insurance News 360) – The application from China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co. Ltd., and its affiliates to acquire Genworth Life Insurance Company and certain affiliates has been approved by Delaware Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro. The application was filed more than two years ago, and in the past two years, the two companies have adjusted the transaction to address different questions posed by regulators at the state, federal, and international levels.

Commissioner Navarro approved the application after a  November 28, 2018 public hearing, where the findings of former Vice Chancellor Stephen P. Lamb were explained. Judge Lamb was appointed to preside at the public hearing and present him with findings of facts, conclusions of law, and a recommendation as to whether the proposed transaction meets Delaware’s legal requirements for approval.

The Delaware Department of Insurance used internal expert financial staff, along with outside experts to scrutinize the financial, actuarial and data security aspects of this transaction, agreed to notice the public hearing after the parties recently agreed to deposit $375 million in liquid funds into GLIC.  These additional liquid funds will be invested in GLIC and available to pay policyholders was cited in the testimony of the Department witness, by Judge Lamb in his findings, and today by Commissioner Navarro as being vital to the approval of this transaction.  “I am satisfied that China Oceanwide brings immediate new value to the policyholders, and I look forward to working with them and with GLIC’s management to assure that the safety of benefits to GLICs policyholders is always considered the top priority.”

Commissioner Navarro’s approval includes certain additional conditions to assure the ongoing safety of GLIC’s policyholders. This includes restrictions on the parties to assure that GLIC’s funds are used for policyholders; prohibiting any dividends without the Department’s prior approval and tasking China Oceanwide and GLIC to establish teams to continuously meet and respond to Department requests focused on measures of financial health.

“I know that no one act will fix all the challenges of long term care, but I am satisfied that this approval is a step forward, to be followed by many future steps to protect the policyholders,” Navarro said.

Source: Delaware Insurance Department.

California Insurance Commissioner

(Sacramento, CA – Insurance News 360) – Commissioner Jones blasts Trump Administration rule interfering access to abortion, creating confusion that leads to loss of insurance

On Jan. 4, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones sent a letter to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services opposing the proposed rule “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Exchange Program Integrity.”

This proposed rule pertains to policies through the exchange, and would require insurers to send separate bills each month for consumers who enroll in health insurance policies that include abortion coverage. The bill would cover the portion of the premium charged for abortion services. State law requires that health insurance policies include abortion coverage.

In part, Commissioner Jones’ letter reads:

“Californians have an inalienable right to privacy secured by the California Constitution, and that right includes the right to choose whether to bear a child or choose to obtain an abortion. The State of California is forbidden from denying or interfering with someone exercising that right.”

“I urge you to withdraw the amendments to the Segregation of Funds for Abortion Services federal rule (45 CFR § 156.280) found in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Exchange Program Integrity proposed rule. The proposed amendments to 45 CFR § 156.280 serve no purpose other than interfering with access to abortion, and have the potential to create substantial consumer confusion, which could result in cancelation of health coverage generally for some individuals. In California alone this ill-conceived proposed regulation would affect more than 1.3 million consumers enrolled in qualified health plans (QHPs) through California’s Exchange, Covered California.”

“The proposed amendment to the Segregation of Funds for Abortion Services rule found in the Exchange Program Integrity proposed rule is unnecessary and extraordinarily burdensome to consumers and health insurers.”

“It is both absurd and punitive to single out this one medical service and require a separate bill and separate payment be made for this coverage. In addition to inappropriately interfering with a woman’s right to abortion coverage, this rule will likely result in the cancellation of the health insurance policies of consumers who fail to understand these burdensome rules.”

“The proposed changes to 45 CFR § 156.280 are entirely arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with statute, and come with unacceptable costs to both consumers and QHP issuers. California Department of Insurance strongly opposes the proposed changes to the existing language of § 156.280, because these changes will harm consumers, issuers, and health insurance markets. This proposed regulation, a burdensome federal government intrusion, serves no legitimate purpose and should be withdrawn.”

Source: California Insurance Department.