The Reality of Government-run Auto Insurance

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1 Report on Other Automobile Insurance Issues Newfoundland and Labrador The Reality of Government-run Auto Insurance Mercer Oliver Wyman

2 MYTH #1: Government-run insurance would be "driver-owned." FACT: Government-run auto insurance is often referred to "driver-owned" auto insurance. A truly "driver-owned" auto insurance company would sell shares, have open elections for its Board of Directors and have Annual General Meetings. This does not happen with the existing "driver-owned" auto insurance systems in BC, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. True "driver-owned" auto insurance companies already exist within the private sector. Mutual insurance companies are owned by their policyholders. If, at the end of a fiscal year, the mutual insurance company declares a profit, the profit is shared among the policyholders. MYTH #2: Government auto provides lowest rates for drivers. FACT: Insurers provide car insurance within a strict framework of provincial laws and, because of that, insurance systems cost what they cost whether they are owned by government or the private sector. Because the laws vary according to regions comparisons are not valid; one can't compare the no-fault system of Manitoba, for example, to the tort system that would be implemented in Prince Edward Island. It's even inappropriate to compare the very different tort system of BC with that of PEI. In BC, the government-run auto insurer has a policy of "no crash - no cash" which means that accident victims involved in minor fender benders are not eligible for a compensation linked to a soft tissue injury. In PEI, insurers are paying these types of claims daily. While it is true that the Prairie provinces have some of the lowest premiums in dollar terms, their deductibles change the story. If their deductibles are included (at levels rejected by Prince Edward Islanders when given the choice even though they lower premiums), then the price of government insurance climbs even more. Government insurers also change rating territories as a way of increasing rates for consumers without applying for a "rate increase." Rating territories have been changed in BC every several years. In November 2002, ICBC made a number of dramatic changes to its rating territories, unilaterally moving thousands of motorists into higher priced territories. This resulted in these motorists' rates increasing dramatically, some by as much as 30%. These are the kind of "backdoor" rate increases given to the public by government-run auto insurers who have had their "front door" rate increases capped or limited by government.

3 MYTH #3: Government-run auto systems provide the most generous benefits for consumers. FACT: In all cases, benefits paid-out by private insurers are richer than those offered by government-run insurers. For example, in the no-fault system in Manitoba, an accident victim who is catastrophically injured has no right to sue for economic loss that exceeds the prescribed schedule of payments, including suing for future lost wages. MYTH #4: Government insurers operate more efficiently. They have lower operational expenses. FACT: The fact is that there are no economies of scale in government-run auto insurance systems. The administrative expense ratios for Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) vs the private industry (5.6%, 10%, 15% and 26.9% respectively) are significantly misrepresented. In ICBC's annual report, its operating expense ratio is reported as 15.9% but that of the private industry in BC is reported as 30.9%. ICBC's 15.9% operating expense ratio includes commissions and taxes, but excludes other general expenses. In contrast, when the private auto insurance industry quotes operating expenses, it includes all expenses. After adjusting the private industry figure for this difference, the ratio in 2001 would be 18%. Furthermore, the remaining difference between ICBC's operating expense ratio and the BC private auto insurance industry can nearly all be attributed to ICBC's tax status as a Crown Corporation. Taking away that difference, the operating expense ratios become 15.9% for ICBC and 16.0% for private insurers. In summary, the private industry's expense numbers compare very favourably to ICBC's and where they are higher this can almost wholly be attributed to: ICBC's tax status as a Crown Corporation; and accounting changes at ICBC that have moved items out of expenses into claims.

4 MYTH #5: Private insurers are risky investors who make their customers pay for bad investments. FACT: Private insurers are among the safest and shrewdest investors in the country; they invest 75% of their portfolio in bonds, nearly all of them government bonds. This compares to ICBC's 71%, MPI's 79% and SGI's 44%. Private insurers across the country invested more than $900 million in municipal and school board bonds in Furthermore, while private insurers are required to maintain capital if they invest in risky assets, government-run insurers do not. ICBC's $200 million recent write-down on an aging shopping mall and office tower is just one example of its questionable investment outcomes. MYTH #6: Government-run auto insurance systems can better control claims costs. Often cited is ICBC's claims growth of only 3.2% in 2002 over FACT: Historically, none of the government-run insurers have been able to contain claims costs and have over time resorted to increasing premiums and deductibles, changing rating territories and significant product change, such as introducing no-fault, with greater frequency than private insurers. The ICBC claims' growth of only 3.2% was accomplished by increasing deductibles and thereby eliminating an estimated 60,000 claims from the system, effectively transferring $160 million in the cost of repairs from the government-run insurer to policyholders. This was on top of a rate increase. Further, according to ICBC's latest quarterly results, their claims costs in the first quarter of 2003 were up 8.2% from the same quarter last year. This is similar to the claims growth that private insurers are now seeing. Manitoba Public Insurance has operated at a loss for two consecutive years and drained its capital reserves as a result of increasing claims costs. Further the 2002 annual report notes that rates in Manitoba will have to rise to address claims trends.

5 MYTH #7: Everyone pays the fairest rates. Government-run auto eliminates rating based on "discriminatory" factors such as age, gender and marital status, which are used by private insurers in their risk-based rating system. FACT: This means that government-run plans discriminate against older, safer drivers and subsidize younger, higher risk drivers. Further, government-run insurers find other ways to rate according to risk. ICBC's RoadStar program is one example of a government insurer implementing an age-based rating through the back door. A driver who gets his/her licence at the age of 16 does not qualify for the discount until age 25. Coincidentally, 25 is the age risk-based raters (private insurers) use to indicate safer drivers. What is more, a driver has to be at least 34 years old to qualify for ICBC's absolute best rate. ICBC is attempting to have higher risk drivers pay higher premiums. In recent years, ICBC has also stated that it needs "right pricing" to ensure that customers are paying the premiums required for the risk they represent. MYTH #8: A government-run insurance company can be started for $2 million. There will be no cost to the taxpayers. The system will be funded by drivers. FACT: At a very minimum, the cost of government-run auto to taxpayers will equal the worth of foregone insurance taxes, which a government has to recoup elsewhere. In PEI, the lost taxes would amount to an estimated $2.9 million annually. In addition, despite paying back start-up loans, every government-run insurer in Canada has required a taxpayer bailout, whether through direct cash injections or through dedicated tax revenues. In early 1976, less than two years after their start-up day, ICBC required a bailout of $181 million ($600 million in today's dollars). None of that money was ever paid back. In addition, just 24 months after its inception, ICBC required both a massive bailout and a 25% rate increase.

6 MYTH #9: Government-run auto insurers pay dividends to policyholders. FACT: The fact is that MPI in 2001, and ICBC in 2000, did pay dividends to policyholders. However, advocates of government-run auto insurance have failed to mention that MPI had a deficit of $97 million following that surplus distribution and had to transfer $93 million from its capital surplus reserves to pay for the distribution. This reserve has been declining steadily and now has $35 million in it, down from $143 million in Increasing claims pressure (claims costs in 2001 were $30 million more than expected) and a severe weather event would drain this reserve very quickly. MPI estimates that a severe hailstorm could increase claims by as much as $50 million (2001 annual report). In ICBC's case, the year following the dividend, the corporation lost $250 million. It couldn't afford the dividend but paid it out prior to an election. In exchange for the $100 each, drivers had their deductibles doubled, premiums raised and many were transferred into more expensive rating territories. ICBC paid for this giveaway through a reduction in reserves, which are now at dangerously low levels. This dangerous, politically motivated "dividend" is a perfect example of what would be wrong about government owned insurance, not what would be right about it. This is not how to run a business. Finally, dividends are not unique to government-run insurers. Policyholders in private insurance markets can also receive policyholder dividends, where the financial situation of the company warrants, if they are policyholders with mutual companies. MYTH #10: Government-run auto insurance makes for safer roads. FACT: This has not be proven to be true in BC. BC's incidence of uninsured drivers is estimated to be about the same as that of other provinces. In fact, data/estimates from provincial ministries of transportation indicate that the incidence of uninsured drivers is lower in both Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia as compared to BC. The British Columbia Ministry of Transportation reported that 65% of persons prohibited from driving in BC continue to drive without insurance. This alone represents at least 10,000 uninsured drivers on BC's roads. Furthermore, BC injury and fatality rates the other hand, is well above the national average for injuries and deaths from motor vehicle accidents. Government-run insurance does not create safer roads.

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