As the United States enters the second month of a public health emergency due to the spread of COVID-19, states are issuing bulletins and statutory or regulatory amendments concerning insurance and insurers in sectors beyond health insurance.
Many, if not all, states have issued broad state-of-emergency orders detailing how citizens and businesses should respond to the pandemic, but other bulletins are more specifically focused on how insurance regulators should handle the outbreak, or on how insurance providers and insureds should continue with the business of insurance.
Many states issued guidance bulletins at the end of February or in early March, before “shelter-in-place” orders or warnings were imposed. Some of the early bulletins and orders did not address the issues and impact inherent to such stay-home missives. Some states that have not issued specific bulletins are beginning to modify their statutes and regulations to provide guidance during the public health emergency.
Below are examples of how different states are handling Life & Annuities, Property & Casualty, Workers’ Compensation, and other lines of insurance during the pandemic. These examples do not represent an exhaustive list:
Alaska issued several bulletins looking at premium changes, extending form, rate, and advertising filing deadlines, and prohibiting carriers from terminating contracts during the disaster declaration for non-payment of premiums. Focusing on cancellation for nonpayment, AK Bulletin 2020-8 expressly notes that the grace period does not eliminate a requirement to pay the premium entirely, but instead places a limit on policy cancellation for non-payment. This mandate will remain in effect until June 1, 2020. (AK Bulletin 2020-10, AK Bulletin 2020-6, AK Bulletin 2020-8).
Arkansas took a more general look at the pandemic’s impact on the insurance workforce state-wide. Recognizing that insurers may not have the appropriate consumer service department staffing during the outbreak, the Department requested that insurers provide them with an email address the Department itself can use when fielding consumer contacts. Arkansas also encourages insurers to adjust any claims as quickly as possible and use any and all possible methods to adjust claims remotely while meeting adjustment and claim resolution goals. Similarly to other states, Arkansas also prohibits the cancellation or non-renewal of policies for 60 days for non-payment of premiums, limiting this restriction only to insureds who are diagnosed with or test positive for COVID-19. (AR Bulletin 6-2020).
California takes a slightly different approach to time frame restrictions: it encourages insurers not to use an insured’s driver’s license or vehicle registration expiration date for 60 days following March 16, 2020 for securing and maintaining coverage, Good Driver Discounts, Low Cost Policies, or rating decisions, among other things. CA Notice 3-18-2020 (#3) requests that insurers provide at least a 60-day grace period for premium payments to prevent cancellation and non-renewal for nonpayment of premiums during the outbreak. Licensees who accept premium payments on behalf of insurers should ensure that customers have the ability to make prompt payments, and provides for alternative payment methods. California emphasizes that insurers should maintain their ability to process and pay insurance claims and provide for their insureds, and notes that the Department of Insurance will take the COVID-19 exceptional circumstances into account when “evaluating compliance with legal and commercial obligations” during the pandemic. Finally, California focuses on the health and safety of insurance employees and other workers during the outbreak, providing guidance on “shelter in place” and state/federal definitions of “essential activities.” (CA Notice 3-18-2020 (#4), CA Notice 3-18-2020 (#2), CANotice 3-18-2020 (#3), CA Notice 3-20-2020).
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia has not yet issued bulletins regarding insurance and the COVID-19 outbreak, but it has started to modify their statutes to focus on COVID-19. Specifically, DC enacted the “COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020,” which looks at labor and workforce protections for those facing unemployment. For example, the Act ensures that affected employees are eligible for unemployment insurance during the public health emergency. It also grants the Commissioner of Insurance emergency authority during the pandemic, which the Act goes on to describe in more detail (2019 DC L.B. 718 (NS)).
Florida focuses on continuation of business as usual for insurers. It requires that insurers immediately review and update their existing Business Continuity Plans and/or Continuity of Operation Plans in response to the pandemic. Additionally, Florida notes the requirements that each plan must meet, including the impacts of COVID-19. Florida also provides requirements for notifying the Office of Insurance Regulation if a company activates its Plan, and/or if the company’s business operations are compromised to the point that it jeopardizes the company’s ability to provide “essential insurance services” to policyholders. (FL Memorandum 2020-03M).
In a move similar to Florida’s, Georgia puts its focus on continuity of business, but this time from the perspective of how insurers can help their insured businesses continue as normal. GA Bulletin 20-EX-3, for example, specifically describes the existing coverage available for business interruption insurance, and the typical exclusion for “viruses and disease.” It provides for civil authority coverage that may be purchased separately as additional coverage. If a business experiences actual loss of income and extra expenses caused by government orders closing an insured’s premises, quarantining all or part of the premises, or suspending public transportation, Georgia provides forms developed by the Insurance Services Office, Inc. that businesses can use. Other bulletins focus on licensed insurance agents, waiving all in-person continuing education requirements through April 30, 2020. GA Bulletin 20-EX-4 encourages agents seeking license renewals to apply even if CE requirements have not been met, and for applicants who have not yet taken the licensing test to gather their required documentation and wait until after test centers reopen to submit their applications. In a move similar to other states, Georgia also prohibits property and casualty insurers from canceling commercial policies based on non-payment of premiums for 60 days. It also suspends all on-site or in-person examinations and audits until conditions improve. Georgia also suspends current non-federal filing deadlines, except for product filings, and waives late fees. However, unlike other states that place a specific time frame for waiver, such as 60 days, Georgia leaves this waiver in place “until the Insurance Commissioner determines business operations may return to normal.” (GA Bulletin 20-EX-3, GA Bulletin 20-EX-4, GA Bulletin 20-EX-5).
New York’s focus is also on preparedness plans, like Florida, emphasizing that insurers should monitor and address the risk posed by COVID-19. It requires that responses to preparedness plans are due within 30 days following March 10, 2020, and states minimum requirements for these plans. New York also takes a broad approach to its regulation, focusing on the adverse impact to consumers and small businesses and encouraging insurers and other regulated entities to help minimize such adverse impact. Additionally, and uniquely among the states who have issued guidance, New York looks at travel insurance policies and Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) benefits relating to travel. (NY Circular Letter 2020-4, NY Circular Letter 2020-5, NY Circular Letter 2020-7).
Oregon looks at how the Division of Insurance is handling the pandemic, including encouraging its employees to work remotely, staggering work schedules, canceling in-person events, and avoiding non-essential travel. It recognizes that many entities may be closing office locations, and therefore be unable to send required information to the Division. Therefore, it vows to work with stakeholders to set up a process for submitting documents to the Division and provides an email address to facilitate easy submissions. It appears that Oregon plans to issue further guidance, and requests input from stakeholders as well. (OR Notice 3-17-2020).
Although Washington has not yet issued any bulletins, it has started amending specific state statutes to provide flexibility during the pandemic. For example, it recently enacted a new statute under WA ST § 41.05, State Health Care Authority, noting eligibility requirements for employer contributions towards benefits from the School Employees’ Benefits Board during the COVID-19 public health emergency, as well as eligibility once the emergency ends and regular school operations resume. (2019 WA S.B. 6189 (NS)).
In a bulletin issued on March 15, 2020, Wisconsin encouraged insurers to comply with recommendations regarding gathering sizes due to the pandemic. The bulletin focused on preventing further spread of the disease, requesting that insurers be flexible when rescheduling meetings or allowing alternatives to in-person policyholder or shareholder meetings. It also encouraged electronically filing documents and requested that insurers who could not meet certain filing deadlines contact the Department of Insurance for further assistance. In a more recent bulletin, issued March 23, 2020, it issued guidance for delivery drivers and personal auto and commercial general insurance coverage during the COVID-19 emergency. The bulletin discusses the closure of many restaurants to in-person dining, and the use of restaurant staff to provide delivery service. In a very narrow focus, the bulletin prohibits insurers from denying claims under personal auto policies solely because the insured was engaged in delivering food on behalf of a restaurant impacted by the closure order. This prohibition applies to all personal auto policies in effect on or after March 17, 2020, and Wisconsin allows insurers to, at their own discretion, provide for retroactive coverage beginning on March 17. If an insurer provides commercial general liability coverage to a restaurant, it also requires the insurer to notify said restaurant that hired and non-owned auto coverage is available if needed. This applies to all commercial general liability policies in effect on or after March 17, and again allows for retroactive coverage at the insurers discretion. However, if an insurer offers retroactive coverage, it may request that the insured certify they have not incurred any potential claims during the period of retroactive coverage. (WI Bulletin 3-15-2020, WI Bulletin 3-23-2020).
A list of all the Declarations of States of Emergency is available here, and a gathering of health and non-health related insurancebulletins and statutory/regulatory amendments can be found here. For additional information on insurance regulations surrounding delivery drivers during the COVID-19 outbreak, see this article.
For a regularly updated list of U.S. federal regulations related to the COVID-19/novel coronavirus update, please click on this link to the Skopos Labs Coronavirus Policy Tracker.