Insurers Go To States For A Break On Surplus Requirements

BY JIM CONNOLLY
National Underwriter News
February 13, 2009


More insurers under state "permitted practices" rules are requesting relief from requirements concerning their capital surplus.

Approximately 20 companies have applied to the Ohio insurance department for relief in response to bulletins issued on Feb. 3, according to Carly Glick, a department spokesperson. Letters will be sent to the companies next week in response to the requests, she added.

The requests follow a filing by Hartford Financial, Harford, Conn., to the Connecticut insurance department for relief amounting to $987 million. The relief was granted by Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Tom Sullivan.

The use of "permitted practices" rules in states to offer companies capital and surplus relief may force companies to ask for relief in order to remain competitive with companies that have applied for the dispensation, according to Birny Birnbaum, executive director of the Center for Economic Justice, Austin, Texas.

Mr. Birnbaum and Robert Hunter, an insurance advocate for the Consumer Federation of America, Washington, are arguing that any capital and surplus relief proposals should be vetted and fully processed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo.

Not only does the use of "permitted practices" in individual states create a competitive situation among companies, but it also creates possible conflict among states with different views on the use of how these practices should be used to grant relief, Mr. Birnbaum added.

Mr. Hunter and Mr. Birnbaum sent a letter today to state insurance commissioners requesting a March 1 publication by the NAIC of the total number of requests for permitted practices related to capital and reserve relief for reporting year 2009.

They sought information broken out by state, by type of insurance product and type of request (where type of request is specific, such as request for change in accounting for deferred tax asset). The names of companies making the requests would not be requested.

The request follows correspondence that Mr. Birnbaum sent to Commissioner Sullivan for all correspondence regarding his granting of capital relief to Hartford Financial.

In a Thursday e-mail, Mr. Birnbaum said the correspondence regarding the request can hardly be considered confidential when it was publicly discussed by Hartford in its 10K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. "An insurer cannot claim privilege when it has waived that privilege by releasing the information to the public," he noted.

He added, "The requests for permitted practices are not financial analyses, examination work papers, operating or financial condition prepared on or on behalf of or for the use of the insurance commissioner."

And, Mr. Birnbaum said, statutory authority calls for the release of such information if it is in the public interest, which he maintains it is.

The NAIC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Other states are starting to weigh in on whether they will offer capital relief. In addition to Ohio, Iowa has indicated that it will allow capital relief as described in their respective bulletins. The Ohio department said it can't release the names of the companies or whether they will be given relief until after the letters go out.

Iowa insurance department spokesman Tom Alger said the agency has received several requests from its domestics.

Lauren Sammerson, a spokesperson for Lincoln National Corp., said Indiana, the company state of domicile, has granted the firm permission to follow certain regulatory permitted practices for year-end 2008 statutory accounting purposes.

Illinois, Maine and New York said that if companies individually are in need of help, they will entertain ways to offer capital relief but not as a blanket rule.

Pennsylvania has not received a company request as there are no provisions under state insurance laws for less than minimal capital and surplus, according to Katy Gresh, a department spokesperson. In general, permitted practices are not allowed, she added.

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