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In Title V of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the Dodd-Frank Act), Congress established the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) within the U.S. Department of the Treasury. One of the tasks of the FIO is to monitor all aspects of the insurance industry, including identifying issues or gaps in the regulation of insurers that could contribute to a systemic crisis in the insurance industry or the U.S. financial system. The Dodd-Frank Act also requires that the FIO Director report to the President and to the Committee on Financial Services of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate each year “on the insurance industry and any other information as deemed relevant by the Director or requested by such Committees.” FIO has prepared its 2013 Annual Report on the Insurance Industry with a view to its role as monitor of the insurance industry.

This Report says that the financial performance and condition of U.S. insurers continued to show recovery and improvement from the decline during the financial crisis. In 2012, the U.S. insurance industry reported record aggregate premium levels. The two principal sectors in the U.S. insurance industry are life and health (L/H) and property and casualty (P/C). The U.S. insurance industry currently has more than 1,000 L/H insurers and more than 2,700 P/C insurers. At year-end 2012 reported surplus levels were at record highs for both sectors. Both reported improved profitability in 2012. Market values of insurers have also been recovering since the financial crisis, when large investment losses led to sharp declines in the book values for many insurers..

L/H insurer insolvency levels are at the lowest point in forty years. P/C insurer insolvency levels are at relative lows compared to the last few decades. Insurer insolvencies occurred with some regularity during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and peaked in 1991 at 142. These insolvencies prompted Congressional inquiries and efforts by state regulators to develop a program whereby states were required, through an accreditation process, to adopt solvency laws and regulations that meet certain minimum standards. The laws and regulations of an accredited state must contain provisions substantially similar to, or no less effective than, the significant elements of the NAIC model solvency oversight laws and regulations that state regulators have identified as key. The accreditation standards include compliance with standardized practices, including those pertaining to off-site financial analyses,on-site financial examinations, cross-jurisdictional regulatory information sharing, and assessment and intervention authority with respect to troubled insurers. The accreditation process is a peer review exercise, and all 50 states and the District of Columbia are currently accredited by the NAIC. As a result, the responsibility for taking regulatory actions rests with the insurance regulator of the state in which the legal entity is domiciled. The frequency of L/H insurer insolvencies has decreased since the early 1990s and has remained at relatively low levels for the period during and since the financial crisis. The number of reported financially impaired L/H insurers in recent years is at the lowest since the 1970s.

Despite the seemingly good financial news, the report concludes that insurance regulation in the U.S. is best achieved through a hybrid model in which state and federal authorities can work together, their roles defined by which strength each party brings to the process of improving solvency and market-conduct regulation.  According to an article in the Insurance Journal, industry reaction thus far has been measured, if not mostly predictable: David Sampson, president and CEO of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, notes that the report “starts by listing a number of attacks on state regulation that PCI believes does not adequately reflect the strengths and historical success of the current state-based system.” Similarly, the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) says the report fails to properly highlight conclusions of a June 27 Government Accountability Office report stating that the state-based system worked effectively to help mitigate the negative impacts the 2008 financial crisis had on the insurance industry. Interestingly, one group that didn’t question the report’s assessment of the state-based system was the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which is comprised of state-based regulators. NAIC President and Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon says in a statement that the 71-page report “acknowledges the effectiveness of state-based insurance regulation and the improvements states have made.” No chest-beating there.Cheering the strengths of state regulation, however, was never the point of the FIO’s report.

One of the more colorful turns of phrase in describing the FIO’s recommendations was offered by PIA National Executive Vice President and CEO Mike Becker, who said while the group needs to take a closer look at the FIO report, “On first blush, this looks like the camel’s nose under the tent.”