December 14, 2009

Joint and Several Bust

Back in June we blogged the failure of several self-insurance groups (SIGs) in New York, all run by Compensation Risk Managers (CRM). There was bad news all around: participants in CRM SIGs were suddenly without coverage; and participants in other (non-CRM) SIGs were hit with a huge surcharge to make up the deficits created by CRM's deficient management. Now the proverbial "other shoe" (presumably a Gucci) has dropped, directly on the heads of CRM managers: the company has been indicted by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for fraud and sued by the state comp board. CRM is having what appears to be a well deserved, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

In their own defense, CRM asserts that problems are industry wide:

According to the WCB's website, of the 65 self insurance workers compensation trusts authorized by the WCB and subject to its oversight and regulation, as of November 2009, 32 were either insolvent, being terminated or were underfunded, 13 had been voluntarily terminated and only 20 were operating with no fiscal issues and no regulatory restriction. Compensation Risk Managers managed 8 of these 65 trusts. The Company believes that an industry-wide problem exists and that the WCB has unfairly singled the Company out. The Company intends to defend the WCB litigation vigorously and prove that the WCB's unsubstantiated allegations are utterly without merit.

In other words: don't hold us accountable for something everyone is doing.

Well, maybe other SIGs are in bad shape, but CRM is under fire for operating the insurance equivalent of a Ponzi scheme: the indictment charges that they deliberately under-reserved claims, leading to under-stated losses. The resulting "healthy" loss ratios became the basis for under-pricing the rest of the market, which led to increased membership in their self-insurance groups. The new premiums helped CRM keep up with increasing payments. It all came crashing down when insufficient reserves ran out and payments exceeded available cash. Heck, the experts at Madoff Consulting guaranteed that it would work... right up until the moment it didn't.

Joint and Several Liability
Most people buy insurance with stand-alone policies. Each company is the master of its own fate. If the company performs well, they benefit from lower premiums. If losses are high, the experience rating process leads to higher premiums. As long as the carrier remains solvent (not a given these days), there are no big problems.

Self-insurance groups are different. They involve a much higher level of trust (and risk): not only are you accountable for your own losses; you are on the hook for the losses of other group members. A SIG is only as strong as its weakest member. Indeed, SIG participants in New York discovered that they were on the hook for losses in other SIGs, through a painful surcharge imposed by the comp board.

This brings to mind the response of the immortal Groucho Marx to an invitation to join an exclusive club: "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." That's just the kind of thinking that might have helped the unfortunate companies who find themselves swinging in the wind at the end of CRM's tattered rope.


| 1 Comment

1 Comment

Excuse my churlishness but where were the regulators to allow this to happen under their noses?

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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on December 14, 2009 9:29 AM.

Health Wonk Review: the sausage-making-is-a-messy-business pre-holiday edition was the previous entry in this blog.

MA Supremes: teacher chaperoning ski trip due workers comp is the next entry in this blog.

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