Long story short:
- Big I NY members from across the state met virtually with our Congressional representatives
- Members discussed key issues facing the industry, including the COVID-19 Recovery Fund and business interruption coverage legislation
Despite the ongoing pandemic, independent agents were still able to make our voices heard on the hill. This week and last, Big I NY members participated in virtual meetings with members of the state's Congressional delegation, including the offices of Senator Schumer and Gillibrand, and multiple Members of Congress.
"This was my first time joining a congressional meeting with Big I NY, and I wasn't sure what to expect. It was a great opportunity to speak on important issues for our clients, and I was really impressed how thoughtfully my Congressman (John Katko), listened to our concerns." Said Rina Hart, from OneGroup in Syracuse.
Members met to discuss several pressing issues related to COVID-19, including: opposing misguided legislation to retroactively mandate that business interruption coverage apply to pandemic-related losses; calling for expanded small business relief through the Paycheck Protection Act and the Business Continuity Protection Program; and urging a for a constructive and collaborative dialogue around the best model for providing pandemic coverage in the future.
"It was definitely empowering to meet with our members of Congress and speak up for our members and customers," said Neil Levy, President of Big I Tri-County. “Every day we provide our customers with solutions, and it's our obligation to fight for the right solutions in Washington, too."
Legislative Conference has gone virtual this year, but just because we're not in D.C., doesn't mean we can't make our voices heard with our Members of Congress.
Big I NY is scheduling virtual meetings with our Congressional delegation between May 13th and May 20th, and we need you! There are many critical issues facing our industry, and there has never been a greater need for agents to speak up.
REGISTER FOR CONGRESSIONAL MEETINGS HERE
We'll discuss legislation around Business Interruption Insurance, the Paycheck Protection Program, Recovery Fund, and Future Pandemic Losses.
Big I National will provide a 45 minute legislative briefing on May 13th at 2:00pm, with special guest Congressman Steve Scalise (R, Louisiana), House Minority Whip. Then, you'll have the opportunity to participate in up to 3 meetings – one with your own member of congress, and one with each of our Senators.
The following appointments are confirmed:
May 13- Hector Colon (Senior Legislative Assistant) & Congressman Rose (tentative)
May 14- Congressman Katko
May 15- Congressman Morelle
May 18- Congresswoman Rice
May 20- Congresswoman Maloney
Contact Scott Hobson with questions.
I've never met with a Member of Congress before. What should I expect?
Typically, meetings last about 30 minutes. Each member of the group introduces themselves, where they are from, and their agency. A Big I NY staff member or experienced volunteer will lead the meeting, introducing the topics. Attendees discuss the various issues, how it impacts their customers, and then makes the “ask" – for example, please support or oppose a bill. The staff member or lead volunteer makes sure the group addresses all of the key issues and makes note of questions to follow up on.
I don't really know anything about politics. Is this something I should participate in?
Absolutely! All you need to know is insurance and your own experiences. The Big I has a team of lobbyists – but legislators need to hear from constituents too! This is a great opportunity to learn how we stand up for you and your customers, and actually be part of making a difference.
How will I know when the meetings are and how to join?
Due to the uncertain congressional schedules, we are still waiting for times for many meetings. Confirmed meetings will be posted here. If you have registered, we will email you the date and times of your meetings when they are confirmed, along with information on how to join.
I can't commit if I don't know when the meetings are. What should I do?
We understand! If you are interested, you should register – that way you will receive an email when a meeting time is confirmed. If the time does not work for you, simply decline the meeting request at any time.
I am already registered for Legislative Conference – do I need to register for congressional meetings too?
Yes – these are different registration forms. You must register using the link above so we can match you with the appropriate Member of Congress.
Do I need special software to join these meetings?
Meetings will be on different platforms, but all of them will work on your internet browser. If you are joining on your smartphone, you may need to download an app ahead of time (such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, etc.)
Do I need special equipment to join?
As much as possible, we are trying to schedule video calls. For these, you will need a webcam or smartphone, and headphones with a microphone is highly recommended for audio quality and feedback issues. All meetings will have the option to join in audio only, but we recommend you join by video if you are able.
What should I wear?
We recommend business casual attire.
The New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board (NYCIRB) today announced that employers who are paying employees sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic will pay a less-expensive rate for Workers' Compensation insurance. Big I New York had asked the NYCIRB to make this change.
Many employers have taken advantage of the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which provides them with short term loans to cover payroll for two months during stay-at-home orders. Other employers are simply paying employees even though they are prohibited from operating.
Workers' Compensation rating rules require premiums to be calculated based on the amount of the employer's payroll. While idled employees are still on the payroll, they have no exposure to being injured on the job. This results in an employer paying insurance premiums for a non-existent risk.
The NYCIRB announced that it has filed and received approval from the New York State Department of Financial Services for a new classification - code 8873, Telecommuter Reassigned Employees. According to the announcement, this classification applies:
"... to the payroll of employees who, during New York’s stay-at-home order related to the COVID-19 pandemic (and future stay-at-home orders), are reassigned to either (a) not perform any work duties (idle), or (b) perform clerical work duties at home. The loss cost rate for Classification 8873 will mirror the rate for Classification 8810 (clerical office employees). Further, this provision is applicable at the start of New York’s stay-at-home order and for up to 30 days after its conclusion."
The rule change applies to all new and renewal policies effective May 1, 2020, as well as to all in-force policies as of March 16, 2020.
Big I New York's Tim Dodge exchanged emails with the president of the NYCIRB in mid-April on this issue. The board assured us at that time that a change was forthcoming.
We suggest that you contact all clients for whom you obtain Workers' Comp insurance so they can instruct you as to how much of their payroll should be assigned to this new classification.
The issue of the applicability of business interruption coverage has become one of the most hotly discussed insurance issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is well-established that for virtually every commercial business interruption policy, there is no coverage for losses related to COVID-19. In response, both Congress and the New York State Legislature are currently considering legislation that would retroactively require insurers to cover losses related to COVID-19. We believe these proposals are misguided and would have catastrophic consequences.
On the Federal level, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R, Pennsylvania) has sponsored the “Never Again Small Business Protection Act" that would require every commercial property-casualty policy which includes business interruption coverage to provide coverage for losses stemming from the closure of a business for practically any reason, which would include losses associated with a virus or pandemic. Recently, President Trump called on insurers to pay virus related claims if they are not excluded.
In New York State, Assemblyman Robert Carroll (D, Brooklyn) and Senator Andrew Gounardes (D, Brooklyn) have sponsored legislation to require COVID-19 related losses to be covered retroactively by business interruption insurance.
Why a Retroactive Coverage Mandate is Unwise - and Ineffective:
- First and foremost, pandemics are by nature uninsurable, and the losses associated with a pandemic are beyond what the existing insurance mechanism can afford to cover. Insurance policies contain exclusions for losses caused by events like war, nuclear and radiation accidents, and pandemics because the potential losses are so extreme and widespread that providing such coverage would threaten insurer solvency and force companies to charge premiums that would be cost-prohibitive.
- The magnitude of these losses is enormous and will threaten the financial health of many insurers, quickly send some domestic companies into insolvency, and destabilize an otherwise healthy economic sector. The insurance industry will be needed to support economic activity and help fuel our economic rebound when the restrictions are lifted, but it will not be positioned to do so if measures like this are enacted into law.
- Such proposals would require insurers to utilize the premiums collected for other specified risks and set aside to pay claims, and the outlays this would mandate will almost certainly exceed the amount of premium collected for all commercial property insurance.
- Legislatively rewriting existing insurance contracts by somehow nullifying the virus exclusion or the physical damage requirement would blatantly run afoul of the constitutional prohibition against the government impairing private contracts.
- Proposals that attempt to revise insurance contracts and compel insurers to pay for losses that were clearly excluded are misleading and offer false hope to businesses that are struggling through the crisis. Indeed, only 30% of small businesses have business interruption coverage. This proposal offers the majority of small businesses no relief.
- The insurance industry is working closely with the business community on a proposal that would enable those in need to receive compensation from the federal government. The federal fund that has been proposed would be open to all businesses adversely affected by the pandemic and not simply the small minority that bought business interruption coverage that excluded such risks.
Big I NY Has Your Back:
IIABA has joined a coalition of insurance trade associations in calling on congress to reject retroactive coverage mandates. Big I New York is working closely with our national Government Relations team to urge the state's congressional delegation to reject this misguided proposal.
On the state level, we are similarly opposing retroactive coverage legislation mandates. Keep an eye on your inbox for ways to contact your local legislators. We continue to advocate for a solution that will provide real, meaningful relief for our small business customers.
Following a request from Big I New York, the New York State Department of Financial Services today said that insurance producers are not required to use U.S. Mail to send policyholder notices about a current moratorium on policy terminations.
On March 30, the department published a new insurance regulation 216 and a new section to the state banking regulations, in response to an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo the day before. Those regulations:
- Implemented a 60-day moratorium on policy cancellations, non-renewals, and conditional renewals
- Required insurers and premium finance companies to offer alternative premium payment arrangements to policyholders suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic
- Prohibited insurers and premium finance companies from taking punitive actions against those who pay their premiums late during the next 60 days
They also required producers to "mail or deliver" notices to their policyholders of the new temporary rule changes. This requirement represented a potential large expense (both in terms of money and time) for insurance agencies, as well as a risk to employees' health.
Last week, Big I New York President and CEO asked the department to permit producers to send the notices by email even where they did not have policyholders' prior permission. The department granted that request in an update posted to its website on April 5.
Earlier today, Lounsbury followed that request with an email addressed to Superintendent of Financial Services Linda Lacewell, asking her to repeal the producer notice requirement entirely. "If it cannot be," she added, "then we request that the DFS issue additional guidance quickly that formally acknowledges that it will accept a producer’s best and reasonable efforts to comply with (the notice requirement), acknowledging that physical mailings do not need to be done for those policyholders who the agency is not able to electronically communicate with."
At 3:27 p.m. today, Lounsbury received the following response from a department official:
"The new guidance relieves insurance producers of the requirement to send out notices to policyholders via physical mail. Producers are required only to email the notices to the consumers for whom they have email addresses, post the notices to their websites (if they have websites), and disseminate the notices via other means, such as social media, if feasible."
While the department's message did not repeal the requirement as we requested, it did ease compliance. Big I New York thanks the department for working with us to lighten the burden on agencies and brokerages during this unique and challenging time.
We have a sample letter, approved by the attorneys at Keidel, Weldon & Cunningham, LLP, available for members to use in their notices.
As developments seem to occur almost hourly, we encourage members to frequently check www.biginy.org/coronavirus and watch email for our future announcements.
Following repeated requests from Big I New York, the New York State Department of Financial Services has
announced that insurance producers will be allowed to send the required COVID-19 premium payment rule notices to clients by email, regardless of whether the clients have given prior consent. This will relieve them of the requirement to mail or deliver such notices. Guidance is available on DFS's website.
The notices are required by
emergency regulations the DFS issued on March 30. Those regulations implemented the
governor's executive order declaring a moratorium on insurance policy cancellations, non-renewals and conditional renewals for 60 days. They also prohibited insurers from taking certain punitive actions against policyholders who make premium payments late, and to make alternative premium payment arrangements for those suffering financial hardship because of the pandemic.
In addition to requiring insurers to advise their policyholders of these rules in premium bills, the regulations require producers to send notices of the rule changes to individual and small business policyholders by April 13. The regulation requires producers to "mail or deliver" the notices.
Big I New York President and CEO Lisa Lounsbury contacted a DFS official multiple times last week, asking the department to relax its rules on electronic communications with clients. In the past, the department has consistently interpreted New York's Electronic Signatures and Records Act as requiring the client's prior consent before insurers and producers may send records to them electronically. Lounsbury repeatedly asked the DFS to relax this stance due to the short deadline and the abnormal working conditions created by the pandemic.
The department responded to our requests today and posted on its website:
"Second, the Department is accommodating Producers by reducing their burden to fulfill the Notice Obligations during the current state of emergency. Specifically, for the duration of the current state of emergency, Producers may comply with the Notice Obligations by emailing the notices to the consumers for which the Producers have email addresses, regardless of whether the consumers have consented to receiving this notice via email. ..."
The department also instructed producers who have websites to post the information there as soon as possible. Further, the department encouraged "supplemental dissemination of the content of the Notice Obligations by other means, including social media."
The notice told producers to maintain records of their communications with consumers, "electronic or otherwise," to satisfy the notice obligation for at least the duration of the statute of limitations (six years, according to court decisions,) or longer if the policy or a claim is in dispute.
The department included model wording for the life and annuity and property/casualty notices in its announcement, but warned that only the relevant version be sent to consumers to avoid confusion. Big I New York also provided model wording for members last week. Our notice was crafted with our legal experts at Keidel, Weldon & Cunningham, LLP.
Big I New York encourages members to prepare and deliver the notices to their personal lines customers and their commercial lines customers who have 100 or fewer employees as soon as possible. The notices must be delivered by Monday, April 13.
*IMPORTANT REMINDER: The notices to property/casualty policyholders only apply to certain kinds of policies and therefore may only be sent to holders of those specific kinds of policies to avoid consumer confusion. The types of policies are explained in general terms in the property/casualty notice. The precise categories of policies are set forth in detail in the emergency regulation, which is posted here
: Specifically, see 11 NYCRR § 229.2(m) in the emergency regulation for the definition of “Property/casualty insurance policy.”
We thank the department for working with us to lessen the burden on producers in this challenging time.
Visit the Coronavirus Resource Page on this website for more information.
The New York State Legislature approved an abridged 2020-21 state budget on April 2. The budget did not include the types of policy changes lawmakers have customarily added in other years. For insurance agents and brokers, this means the proposal to expand the powers of the Department of Financial Services were not part of the final product. Big I New York members argued strenuously against this proposal on Advocacy Day in Albany last month. The proposal’s failure is a testament to their persistence.
A bill introduced in the New York State Assembly on March 27 would force insurers to cover some business income losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, even if their policies excluded coverage. Big I New York is joining other industry groups in opposing the measure.
The bill, A.10226, was introduced by Assem. Robert Carroll (D – Brooklyn). Assem. Carroll announced his intention to introduce the bill in a series of Twitter posts on March 24. Big I NY AVP of Research and Information Tim Dodge posted several replies to the assemblyman's tweets; no counter-replies have been posted.
The bill would require business income policies to cover the insured business for losses it sustains if it must shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This would apply regardless of whether those policies contain virus exclusion. The mandate would apply to policies insuring organizations that employ less than 100 workers who normally work 25 hours or more per week. The bill would authorize DFS to assess for contributions every insurance carrier authorized to do business in this state. The department would then use those contributions to reimburse carriers forced to pay for these losses. The bill would apply retroactively to all policies in force on March 7, 2020.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Insurance Committee. No similar bill has been introduced in the Senate. The New York State Legislature is currently focused on enacting a 2020-21 state budget, so the bill will likely not be on their agenda before the summer.
We believe that this bill would cause great harm to the New York insurance marketplace. Big I New York is working with the national Big I as well as other industry trade groups to defeat it.
"The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) today adopted an emergency regulation requiring New York State regulated issuers of life insurance and annuity contracts, property and casualty insurers and premium finance agencies to provide relief to New York consumers and businesses experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19.
- Consumers experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 may defer paying life insurance premiums for ninety (90) days.
- Consumers and small businesses experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 may defer paying premiums for property and casualty insurance for sixty (60) days.
- Premium finance agencies are required to provide the same relief as insurers. Certain producers must notify insureds of this emergency measure pursuant to the regulation.
UPDATE (4/9/2020 at 3:48pm): Following a request from Big I New York, the New York State Department of Financial Services today said that insurance producers are not required to use U.S. Mail to send policyholder notices about a current moratorium on policy terminations. For more information, read more. Producers are allowed to send the required COVID-19 premium payment rule notices to clients by email, regardless of whether the clients have given prior consent. This will relieve them of the requirement to mail or deliver such notices. Guidance is available on DFS's website. For more info, read more. NYS DFS is requiring producers to notify insureds of the emergency regulation's cancellation rules. The deadline for sending these notices is Monday, April 13, 2020. Big I New York, with Keidel, Weldon, and Cunningham, LLP, have developed this sample wording for you to use in your notices.
What you need to do (as of 4/13/2020, at 5:00pm): Notify policyholders (individuals and small businesses that are independently owned and operated and have 100 or less employees) of the cancellation policy and grace period set forth in the emergency regulation. You may send a notice via email for all insureds you have an email address for (regardless of whether clients have given prior consent). Website posting and social media can be used in addition to this to get the word out.ut.
By when: Monday, April 13, 2020
We have your back: We have worked with our trusted E&O legal team at Keidel, Weldon and Cunningham, LLP to craft a template letter for you to use to comply. Download and customize it here.