Some Big I New York members have asked us whether insurance agents are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations in Phase 1b of the distribution plan. The answer appears to be no.
The New York State COVID vaccine web page contains a long list describing New Yorkers eligible for vaccinations in Phases 1a and 1b. The list includes health care workers; individuals over age 65; first responders; corrections officers; in-person college instructors; those working in schools (pre-school and grades K through 12); grocery store workers; childcare workers; public transit workers; and individuals living and working in homeless shelters.
It does not appear that insurance agency staff qualify under any of these categories.
2020 has been a tumultuous year, and the IA community faced many challenges. In a time of crisis, our advocacy efforts on your behalf are crucial. Here’s how Big I New York had your back in Albany and Washington D.C. this year:
Defeated A Regulatory Power Grab:
In January 2020, the Governor announced an executive budget which would expand the NYS Department of Financial Services' (DFS) authority to levy fines and penalties against insurance agents and brokers, as well as substantially increases possible fines. Big I NY met with key legislators in the Senate and Assembly, and deployed an aggressive grassroots lobbying campaign, culminating in our Independent Agents Advocacy Day in March. Ultimately, we were successful in blocking all harmful proposals from the final budget.
Stood Up for You and Your Customers During COVID
The effects of the pandemic and the state's ongoing response created an ever-changing and often confusing policy landscape. Big I NY was a constant advocate for common sense policies to help you and you and your customers weather the storm.
As the scale of the impact of the pandemic in NY became evident, we called on the DFS to adopt several measures to protect independent agents' ability to assist their customers, including suspending the auto photo inspection requirement (Regulation 79), and creating a grace period for continuing education (CE) and license renewal. Ultimately the DFS concurred, allowing agents to renew their license without CE in place, and waiving in-person monitoring requirements for CE classes and licensing exams. Recently, the elimination of the in-person monitoring requirement was made permanent.
When the Governor first announced occupancy restrictions, Big I NY successfully called for insurance agencies to be deemed essential.
Following Executive Order 202.16, the DFS issued an emergency regulation imposing a moratorium on cancellations and non-renewals for non-payment, as well as establishing a grace period for premium repayment. Initially, the regulation contained an extremely burdensome requirement that producers notify all of their customers by mail of the new changes. Big I NY successfully urged the department to change course, and allow these notices to be provided electronically and without prior consent. We also called for the policyholder protections to be extended to all excess policies, but this was ultimately unsuccessful.
Beginning in March, Big I NY launched a grassroots advocacy campaign which successfully opposed devastating state and federal retroactive business interruption coverage mandates. This campaign involved dozens of virtual meetings between member agents and state and congressional representatives, as well as meetings with legislative leadership and chairs of the Senate and Assembly insurance committees. This issue remains a key legislative priority for 2021. Big I NY members urged our state's congressional delegation to help small businesses by supporting the federal Business Continuity Protection Plan.
Looking Forward: What's on the Horizon for IA's?
With two highly effective vaccines now approved, there is light at the end of the COVID tunnel; but we are unlikely to return to any sort of normalcy until mid-2021 or later. In the meantime, we are in the midst of a second surge, and New York faces a massive budget deficit.
In the immediate future, we are likely to see a host of new “revenue raisers" put forward by New York elected officials. We are prepared to oppose any efforts to expand fines, fees, and penalties on independent agents, and expect to continue the fight against misguided business interruption bills. We are also optimistic that the coming year will bring new interest in eliminating outdated and burdensome regulations, such as the photo inspection regulation and anti-arson application.
If 2020 taught us one thing, it's that you never know just what the future holds. But there's one thing you can be sure of: no matter what, we'll have your back.
Over the last few work days, we've gotten a number of calls from members reporting that at least one staff member has contracted COVID-19. I spoke on Friday with the principal of a five-person agency who (test results pending) suspected as many as four people had the virus. Our office coordinator has reported a lot of calls coming in. Jim Lombardo, our education czar, has been on the phone with a member about this already this morning.
Folks, if this didn't feel real to you before, it should now.
That's why I strongly recommend that you all review
this blog post from Affinity HR Group about what to do when an employee tests positive. There's a lot of good advice here, but this part about when a COVID-positive employee has worked in the office recently is particularly relevant:
Notify other employees as soon as you know of a possibility of exposure; do not wait for a confirmed test result, which may never come. Inform employees, especially those who had regular and sustained contact.
Advise employees of where the sick employee was and on what date so they can determine their risk of exposure and, if necessary, self-quarantine for 14 days to see if they exhibit symptoms.
There is also good advice about cleaning and cordoning off areas where the infected employee was known to work.
In addition, there is this from the New York State government:
An individual who screens positive for COVID-19 symptoms must not be allowed to enter the office and must be sent home with instructions to contact their healthcare provider for assessment and testing.
Immediately notify state and local health departments of confirmed positive cases.
Check the website of your county's health department for contact information.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a thorough Frequently Asked Questions page for employers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases among their staffs. Much of it echoes what is in the other resources I've mentioned, but there is detailed information about cleaning protocols.
The infection rates are climbing in New York and elsewhere. The most recent report from the governor's office is that 47 out of every 1,000 people tested were positive; four weeks ago, that number was 29 out of every 1,000. That's a 62% increase in less than a month. This is a very dangerous time for our world, our country, our state, our businesses, and our people. My colleagues at Big I New York and I cannot urge you strongly enough to take this threat seriously and to do whatever is necessary for you to avoid or contain it.
Stay safe everyone.
Today, the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board issued Bulletin R.C. 2527, which states that effective December 1, 2020, claims attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic are excluded from the merit rating calcuation of individual employers.
Per Bulletin R.C. 2512 of May 1, 2020, COVID-19-related losses are also excluded from experience rating, effective December 1, 2020.
If you have any questions, please contact NYCIRB:
Mark Battistelli, Vice President of Underwriting Services (212) 697‐3535, ext. 113
We are now in our sixth month of the COVID-19 Era, with little hope for an early end. Social distancing and masks will continue to be parts of our lives for now. The changes that seemed shocking to insurance agencies in March have now become Just The Way Things Are.
But people are still buying homes (there were almost 22,000 closed and pending sales in New York in June,) cars (auto sales were at an annual pace of 14.5 million units in July,) and businesses are hiring back some workers, though not as quickly as they shed them in the spring. Commerce is continuing as much as it can during a time when so many normal activities are unsafe. Is your agency taking advantage?
The New York State government designated insurance as an essential business last March. That means agencies weren’t required to have all employees offsite like others. Many agencies never sent their staffs off to work from home. Regardless of where your employees worked from (home or office), they continued to serve their customers, answer their questions, work out their new premium payment schedules, reduce their estimated auditable exposures, and help them through the anxiety. The reality is most agencies seamlessly continued providing trusted guidance and care to their customers.
Many types of businesses were closed, but insurance agencies were there. Insurance agencies are still there. And you are a local business. Are you broadcasting that to the world? You should remind your communities that you have always and will always be there. Now is the time to dust off your promotions, invest in your brand, spruce up your expertise, and experiment with scheduling.
Here are three things your agency can get started on right now to position itself for success as the country muddles through this crisis and crawls toward the finish line.
1. Revisit the COVID messages on your phone system and website.
Do those messages still say something like, “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our office hours are reduced to …” If that is still true, why? Can you ramp operations back up? If it’s not, get those messages off of there. You want to project reliability.
Sure, in April when literally everything was in flux and you were being ordered to send notices to all of your clients, those messages were a good idea, maybe even a necessary one. But now it’s August. We’re not shell-shocked anymore, the notice requirement is happily well back in the rearview mirror, and we can operate a bit more normally, even if most or all of your staff is still working from their kitchens. So jettison any messages implying that you aren’t.
2. Your customers need flexibility just as much as your staff does.
While a lot of people were idled or working remotely early in the crisis (and many still are,) some people and businesses are busier than they’ve ever been. They have insurance needs that they don’t have two seconds to think about until the dinner hour or later. Too bad your office closes at five. But does it have to?
A lot of you have employees who need flexible schedules so that they can perform their newly-discovered jobs of home school teaching, daycare providing or adult caregiving. What if Jane, who is teaching math and spelling in the morning to her eight and ten year-olds, is able (and possibly desperate) to converse with adults about business between noon and 8:00 pm while her significant other assumes the tasks of instruction and peacemaking? Now your agency can serve customers well into the evening, which is when a lot of them need it. You get to take care of customers when your competitors aren’t, making them happy, and you help solve a valued employee’s problems, making him or her happy. Oh, and you make money. Think about it.
3. Invest in staff education.
The insurance business never stops changing, which means you and your staff should never stop learning.
Last August, had you ever heard of pandemic insurance? Did you know that some specialty carriers are writing active shooter insurance? Less exotic, how often is your agency selling Ordinance or Law Coverage with commercial property and homeowners insurance? What do you know about Mechanical Breakdown Coverage? If you had to explain Personal Injury Protection Coverage to a client whose child was just in a car accident, could you do it? Do you know what types of property National Flood Insurance Program policies cover and what they don’t? Expertise matters.
Every insurance shopper is looking for a lower price; that’s a given. But many (not all, but many) really are interested in protection, even if they don’t initially realize it. So build up your agency’s technical expertise. If you specialize in certain industry or market niches, learn more about those niches. If your business is changing, chances are they are, too. And COVID has likely impacted them differently than it did insurance. So commit to learning. It’s good for your customers, it’s good for your future E&O insurance premiums, and it’s good for your bottom line.
These are simple things to make your agency look good. More importantly, they are things to make your agency be good. So get started now. Be the business that your customers know they can rely on.
Today, the DFS adopted, on an emergency basis, the 60th amendment to Regulation 62. The amendment prohibits health insurers from charging copays, coinsurance, or deductibles for outpatient mental health services for essential workers, with the exception of high deductible plans. Health insurers are further required to notify outpatient mental health providers in their network that they may not collect any copay, coinsurance, or deductible from essential workers for such services.
The regulation is currently in effect until September 28th, 2020.
Read the amended regulation here
As of 12:01am on Tuesday, July 7th, emergency restrictions on insurance carriers' and premium finance agencies' ability to terminate coverage and requirements for premium flexibility are no longer in effect. The emergency regulation, first adopted on March 30th, and subsequently re-adopted with changes on June 29th, expired on July 6th, per Executive Order 202.48.
Relief granted to policyholders prior to July 6th remains in effect. For example, an insured who demonstrated hardship for a June 1 premium payment is still entitled to a 60-day deferral (until July 31), and the option to repay that premium in 12 monthly installments.
Contact Scott Hobson with questions.
More information is available from the Coronavirus Resource Page.
The New York State Department of Financial Services today announced that it was again extending the expiration of individual insurance agent and broker licenses. These licenses will now expire on August 7. The move grants producers an additional 30 days to renew their licenses. The requirement that a monitor be present to complete producer continuing education and pre-licensing course exams online also remains suspended.
Be aware that this extention applies to individual licenses only. It does not apply to licenses issued to business entities.
On March 25, the department announced that it was suspending the expiration of producers' licenses for 60 days, through May 24, due to anticipated difficulty for producers to meet continuing education requirements during the current pandemic. All licenses with expiration dates between those dates were automatically extended to expire on May 25. The department subsequently extended the deadline to July 8. Today's announcement pushes that expiration date back to August 7. For example, a license scheduled to expire on July 2 will now expire on August 7.
Visit the Big I NY Education Calendar to find webinars that you can take to meet the continuing education credit requirements.
The new emergency regulation issued by the New York State Department of Financial Services on Sunday limits the number of times that a policyholder can benefit from the moratorium on policy terminations and changes and the relaxed premium payment rules. The rule makes it clear that policyholders suffering financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic may benefit from these provisions only once.
The regulation, labeled Regulation 216, replaced a version of the same regulation that was issued on March 30 for three months. Like its predecessor, it imposes a 60-day moratorium on insurers' ability to cancel, non-renew or conditionally renew policies issued to individuals and small businesses suffering hardship because of the pandemic. Insurers must permit policyholders who miss payments to make up the overdue amounts over a 12-month period. They may not cancel these policies for non-payment, nor can they charge late fees or report the policyholders to credit reporting agencies.
The new version contains provisions that were not in the original. Section 229.5 now includes this:
(c) Nothing herein shall entitle a policyholder who demonstrated a financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and either received a moratorium for a specific policy or obtained relief for an amount due under the prior regulation, to obtain under the Executive Order and this Part an additional moratorium for a
specific policy or further relief for an amount that comes due while this Part is in effect.
A similar provision has been added to the regulation governing premium finance companies:
(d) Nothing herein shall entitle an insured who demonstrated a financial hardship as a result of the COVID19 pandemic and already obtained relief for an amount due under the prior regulation, to obtain under the Executive Order and this section further relief for an amount that comes due while this section is in effect.
The effect is that once an insurer has granted a moratorium to a policyholder and/or worked out a payment arrangement for overdue premiums, they are not obligated to do so a second time. Similarly, premium finance companies, who must extend grace periods for missed payments, are obligated to do so only once.
The regulation is scheduled to expire on July 6.