Climate Survey Made Voluntary, Secret In NAIC Turnabout

NU Online News Service, March 29, 12:06 p.m. EDT

DENVER--Insurance regulators, in a surprise move, have voted to let insurers file their climate risk disclosure survey responses on a voluntary, confidential basis.

The new plan, which passed at a plenary session of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners by a narrow vote, was not disclosed to the public before it came up for a vote.

Called "version three," the revised survey filing concept was approved only after a prolonged debate. It passed on a 27-22 vote during the NAIC's joint Executive Committee/Plenary session at the association's Spring National Meeting held here.

This new version replaces the survey structure voted on by the NAIC in March 2009.

Immediately following the vote, some confusion remained among regulators as to when the new plan was formally drafted and what exactly it entailed.

The plan has since been made available on the NAIC Web site at http://www.naic.org/meetings_home.htm.

According to the posted plan, the survey questions themselves remain unchanged. But language is added to specify that requirement for completing the survey is at the discretion of each state, and that responses are confidential.

Participating states, explains the survey, will coordinate with the NAIC to develop a public report giving information in the aggregate regarding insurer responses.

While a chart remains in the survey stating that disclosure is mandatory for insurer groups with premium over $500 million for 2009 and $300 million for 2010 and thereafter, language is added noting that the chart is a "suggested guideline."

Additional language also now specifies that the questions do not "endorse, reject or otherwise express an opinion on the existence or absence of climate change," and that the survey will not be used for any purpose relating to regulatory consideration of a proposed rate change.

References to providing the information to the public and shareholders are also stricken.

Following the plenary vote, regulators could not say where version three had been drafted, but they said it was the result of roughly two months of discussions.

South Carolina Insurance Commissioner Scott Richardson--who made the motion at plenary to replace the original survey with the new plan--and other regulators, said they believed version three came from Thursday's Climate Change and Global Warming Task Force meeting.

But while the chair of that task force, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario, had noted on Thursday that regulators were discussing several alternatives to the original survey version--including making the survey voluntary or confidential--the task force did not vote or otherwise take action to present any formal alternatives.

Commissioner Ario said immediately after the Plenary vote that he was unsure what version three would look like once published. "I did not see the document that's today labeled 'version three,'" he said.

"I think it's not good public process to be adopting something that no one's seen," he said.

He added that there had been discussions of alternatives, but that those discussions were general and that various wording had been used.

Commissioner Ario said he presented regulators with options. Version two, he said, was to make the survey voluntary instead of mandatory. Version three, he continued, was to make the survey confidential. But, he explained, what was not answered was whether version three was mandatory and confidential, or voluntary and confidential.

Additionally, he said it was unclear whether it was up to individual states to decide whether a domiciled insurer's survey would be voluntary, or for companies themselves to make that decision.

"That's exactly the detail that's not been clarified, so I don't know if that's true or not," he said.

In the debate leading up to the plenary vote, Commissioner Richardson and Ohio Insurance Director Mary Jo Hudson contended that it was never clear that regulators had voted in favor of a mandatory, public survey in March 2009. They said they had voted for a survey, but that they were under the impression the task force would come back with more details about how it would be administered.

A reading of the March 2009 minutes revealed the vote had approved the original version of the survey, but some regulators contended that proper discussions never took place.

"[The March 2009 vote to approve the survey] was done in an agenda vote," Director Hudson said after yesterday's meeting. "It was never fully discussed by the plenary."

Commissioner Ario said ultimately the vote does not change the situation for regulators.

Before the vote, he said, the "presumption was [regulators] could do a mandatory survey and states could diverge from it. Now there's a confidential survey, and states can diverge from it."

Illinois Insurance Director Michael McRaith said he still plans to administer the mandatory, public survey in his state, as was originally agreed.

"The net effect of today's vote is zero," he said, noting that states that were going to administer a mandatory survey will still do so.

"We're not going to live in a hamster wheel reconsidering every vote just because somebody disagrees with it," he said. "We're going to move forward; we made the decision a long time ago."

Commissioner Ario said he will consult with other states and, as task force chair, will try to make the confidential survey voted on yesterday work for as many states as possible. He said he was unsure at this point whether his state will go forward with the mandatory survey or the voluntary, confidential one.

Insurance industry representatives who had opposed the mandatory, public survey said they were pleased with the outcome, if not the process.

Bob Detlefsen, vice president of public policy at the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), said he had been following the proceedings closely and had not seen version three before it was voted on. He wondered if there was a document of the plan available before Thursday's task force meeting, and if so, why it was not made available to the public then.

Regarding the effect of the vote, Mr. Detlefsen noted that before the vote, states choosing to administer a voluntary survey would have been seen as going against official NAIC policy, whereas now, states doing a mandatory survey will be the ones breaking ranks with what the NAIC voted on.

David Kodama, director of policy analysis for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said PCI's plan had always been to address concerns individually with states, since each state retains the authority to decide its course of action. That strategy still applies after yesterday's vote, he said.

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