Friday, December 30, 2011

Michigan Health Plan Tax Lawsuit Tests Business Community Priorities

A lawsuit filed last week in Federal Court seeking a declaration that Michigan’s Health Insurance Claims Assessment Act is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) will certainly test existing legal precedent, but perhaps the more interesting test will be how the business community responds.

This blog previously reported that officials from one prominent business organization in the state had no intention of pushing back against the legislation at the time citing both internal and external political concerns. That said, they suggested that there would likely be “private” support of a legal challenge from within their organization if in fact the law was challenged.

It will be interesting to see how this “leading from behind” approach plays out. In a conversation with my source shortly before the lawsuit was filed, it was noted that Michigan self-insured employers are now starting to pay more attention to the law and what it means to them.

More specifically, this blog has learned that one prominent multi-state self-insured employer based in Michigan calculated its yearly projected expenses to comply with new law to be more than $250,000. Of course, the administrative headaches are just a bonus.

But even with such a direct adverse impact on their company, senior company executives remain guarded about expressing opposition to the new law.

Now that the legal flaws of new law have been laid bare in the detailed complaint filed against the state and word is starting to get out about its practical impact, we’ll see if any heads pop up out of the foxholes.

And while the this legal challenge is important to self-insured employers in Michigan and to other entities that pay healthclaims for Michigan residents for services received within the state, its significance extends more broadly.

Michigan is not the only state that is strapped for cash and looking for new revenue streams. If its new health plan tax law goes unchallenged, this will likely embolden other states to consider this same approach and the cornerstone of ERISA preemption will be greatly compromised, and with it, the viability of self-insured health plans.

I suspect that if Michigan self-insured employers in large numbers estimated the financial impact to their balance sheets if they were forced to switch to fully-insured health plans and publicly communicated this to policy-makers and business association leaders early on this train would have been pulled off the track before arriving at the courthouse door.

The state has declined to comment on the lawsuit thus far but is required to file a formal legal response in the next 30 days so it will soon become clear how they intend to fight this challenge.

Perhaps the business community may yet demonstrate some clarity with regard to where it stands.

A Tale of Two Domiciles...Revisted

We suggested a narrative earlier this year that two southern captive insurance domiciles would be worth watching to compare and contrast based on insurance commissioner appointments in each state. Let’s review.

The captive industry in South Carolina fell on hard times during the regime of Insurance Commissioner Scott Richardson who left office at the end of 2010. When newly-elected Governor Nikki Haley named David Black as his replacement in February, this blog reflected the puzzlement expressed by many industry and political insiders.

Mr. Black was a largely unknown quantity aside from being the CEO of an inconsequential life insurance company.

But the sparse resume and lack of ART industry credentials didn’t deter Governor Haley from appointing Mr. Black and pronouncing him as a savior. Consider her comments when naming him to the position where she said “Understanding the importance of your industry, I chose David Black to lead the Department of Insurance. He has the energy and capability to revitalize the captive industry for our state.”

As it turned out, he had neither

Earlier this week, Mr. Black abruptly announced his resignation to his staff via e-mail giving no specific reason for his decision.

So now Governor Haley has a chance for a second bite of the apple to get it right. This means naming someone to the position who is willing and capable to shake up the bureaucracy within the department and establish a firewall between the regulation of traditional insurance companies and alternative risk transfer programs, as originally envisioned by former commissioner Ernie Csiszar more than a decade ago.

A tall order for sure and we’ll be watching.

A very different story continues to play out in nearby Tennessee where Governor Bill Haslam tapped Julie Mix McPeak to head up the insurance department in that state.

This blog noted that Ms. McPeak had both the credentials and reputation to turn heads within the ART marketplace when word of her appointment surfaced. But her future success was not assured.

The first order of business as it related to the ART industry was to shepherd a bill through the Legislature that made comprehensive updates to the state’s captive statute. This effort proved more difficult than expected but Ms. McPeak was up to the task and that legislation, which she helped draft, was signed into law.

Since that development, she has been working methodically to assemble a top notch regulatory team and now most of the key positions have been filled and she introduced these individuals at an industry event earlier this month.

So armed with a progressive captive stature and a regulatory team inspired to transform Tennessee into a premiere captive insurance domicile, the stage has now been set for her to make it happen.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves as there are certain to be pitfalls ahead as the domicile finds its footing under Ms. McPeak’s leadership in 2012. That said, the fact that leadership is on display is certainly refreshing for those vested in the growth of the ART marketplace.

This tale of two domiciles will continue.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

NAIC Provides Forum for Ivory Tower Attack on Self-Insurance

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has never been known as an organization where the self-insurance/alternative risk transfer industry is treated fairly, but its penchant for bias became even more visible this past week. Worse yet, this bias is now being fomented by an “ivory tower” expert.

Professor Timothy Stoltzfus Jost is the designated “consumer representative” on the NAIC’s ERISA (B) Subgroup , which is tasked with developing various policy recommendations related to how states should adapt their insurance regulations to better coordinate with PPACA implementation. The esteemed professor is not shy in sharing his opinion that smaller self-insured group health plans, facilitated by stop-loss insurance, should be made extinct.

During the Workgroup’s last conference call, Professor Jost presented a formal statement entitled The Affordable Care Act and Stop-Loss Insurance. This scholarly work was quite the hit piece on self-insurance disguised with big words, extensive footnoting and misleading legal references.

His central thesis is that smaller employers should not be allowed to self-insure because they do so primarily to escape state regulation, and going forward to sidestep new PPACA regulation. He also pushes the dubious argument that self-insured plans contribute to adverse selection (see my earlier blog post on this subject).

Virtually all of Professor Jost’s points can and will be rebutted privately and publicly as this NAIC policy development process moves forward, but first let’s take some time to consider the source.

He is currently a law professor at the Washington and Lee University of Law, with multiple other academic appointments dating back to 1979. Along the way, he has written several books and academic papers on the subject of health care with titles such as The Threats Facing our Public Health Care Programs and a Rights-Based Response; and Health Care at Risk: a Critique of the Consumer-Driven Movement.

And by the way, he is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz. In case you are not familiar with this school, it makes U.C. Berkley look like a bastion of conservatism.

So what about private sector experience over his 35 year career? You guessed it, zero. How about past experience as a regulator who at least could interact with the private sector? No again. What we have here is the classic liberal elite academic who looks at the world through prisms of theory and ideology.

Professor Jost holds himself out to be a patient’s rights advocate and clearly views the NAIC as a forum to present his “ivory tower” perspective. OK fine, there’s certainly room for a diversity of qualified opinions as part of the policy development process.

The problem is that while Professor Jost may well have valid perspectives to contribute on true consumer (patient) protection issues, he’s out of his league in commenting on how health care delivery should be financed.

Moreover, if he was truly concerned about the ability of individuals to receive quality, affordable health care, Professor Jost should actually be a proponent of self-insured health plans (regardless of size) because these plans generally do a better job on both counts as compared to the fully-insured marketplace.

It appears the professor is in need of some timely continuing education.

Friday, September 9, 2011

RRG Legislation Snagged by Dodd-Frank Creation

After some initial good progress in moving federal legislation to modernize the Liability Risk Retention Act (LRRA), a new rhetorical roadblock has been raised.

The Risk Retention Modernization Act (H.R. 2126) includes a dispute resolution provision whereby RRGs who believe they are being illegally regulated in non-domiciliary states can access the equivalent of a federal arbitration process as an alternative to initiating costly legal action.

An earlier version of the legislation provided that this dispute resolution mechanism would be administered within the Treasury Department due to technical jurisdiction requirements, but left discretion Treasury to fit this function in as part their exiting organizational chart.

Fast forward to the recent passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, which among other things created a new Federal Insurance Office (FIO) to be housed within the Treasury Department. As a result of this development, the current version of the legislation specifically designates FIO as the entity responsible to arbitrate RRG disputes with state regulators.

Supporters of the legislation have always known that there would be some push back in Congress from members concerned that such a dispute resolution would infringe on the authority of state insurance regulators. Of course, the opposite is actually true and this position has gained traction in recent months.

But just as the policy argument has largely been settled, at least one member of Congress key to the legislation’s eventual message has raised a new concern. In a meeting earlier this week to discuss the legislation, Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), chairwoman of the House Subcommittee of Capital Markets within the House Financial Services Committee, voiced strong concerns about this new responsibility assigned to the FIO.

Her objection was not really specific to RRG regulation, but rather reflects a broader view held by many Republicans that the FIO is being given too much authority. In hindsight, this objection was not particularly surprising.

While PPACA has garnered the lion share of public attention for those critical of government expanding its regulatory reach, the distaste for Dodd-Frank is significant among most Republican members of Congress. As a result, any manifestation of this law, such as the FIO, can spark a reflexive push back as demonstrated by Rep. Biggert’s comments.

It is important to note that this new wrinkle does not mean that H.R. 2126 cannot pass. The lobbying process on Capitol Hill is inherently complicated and this is just the latest example.

In the end, if the case can be made that the practical advantages this legislation offers to small and mid-sized companies trump more abstract political concerns, the LRRA will be successfully modernized.

Stay tuned for additional inside reports on how this legislation is progressing on Capitol Hill.

Regulatory Overreach Compromises Workplace Safety Initiatives

In case you had any doubt that the current public debate over the scope of federal regulation is more about political ideology rather than practical reality, look no further than OSHA’s ramped up oversight of workplace safety issues.

Now on the surface, this may sound like a laudable focus because almost everyone agrees that there is a role for government in making sure that sensible workplace safety standards are established and adhered to. But of course, in this current political climate Obama regulators just don’t know when to say when.

Specifically, OSHA has recently started to subpoena workplace safety audits prepared by workers’ compensation self-insurers and insurance carriers. Keep in mind that that these audits are prepared on voluntary basis so that employers/insurers are better able to proactively address any safety deficiencies that may exist. Such audits are particularly important tools for workers’ compensation self-insurers because they “own” every dollar saved on payments to injured workers.

Historically, OSHA has not attempted to access such audits because everyone understood that employers would likely stop preparing these risk management tools if they could be used against them in regulatory enforcement and/or legal proceedings.

This precedence has been overturned by a recent federal district court ruling stating that OSHA does have the right to subpoena safety audits and related documentation. Specifically, the ruling in the case of Solis v. Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company concluded that audit subpoena are generally enforceable if:

1) They reasonably relate to an investigation within OSHA’s authority;
2) The requested documents are relevant to OSHA’s investigation;
3) The request is not too vague
4) Proper administrative procedures have been followed; and
5) The subpoena does not demand information for an “illegitimate purpose”

According to OSHA’s internal policy regarding voluntary self-audits, the agency will not “routinely” request such audits at the beginning of an inspection, or use the audits to identify hazards to inspect.
But now with a favorable court ruling in their back pocket, it’s very reasonable to expect that OSHA regulators will, in fact, make safety audit subpoenas a routine part of their investigative process.

Of course, and ironically, the real victims are the workers as many employers are likely to curtail such formal audits in response to OSHA’s invasive zeal. Another classic example of “no good deed goes unpunished” apparently embraced by this administration.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Inside Politics in Michigan Demonstrate That Self-Insurance Priorities Are Too Easiliy Dealt Away

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is poised to sign legislation that would impose a one percent tax on medical claims paid by health plans, including self-insured group health plans. This is big news and is certainly a disturbing development for those concerned about the erosion of ERISA preemption. But there is a more interesting story behind the headlines that is instructive for self-insured employers in other states as well.

In anticipation of this legislative development, I spoke with senior representatives from a leading Michigan employer organization to explore possible response options, including litigation coordination if necessary. When asked specifically what their appetite was for legal action assuming the legislation is signed into law, their answer was pretty clear – “zero.”

Given that this association represents many self-insured employers such strong push back was surprising to say the least. Then the “off the record” discussion began.

It turns out that there had been some significant wheeling and dealing between the Legislature, the governor and the business community in order to craft various budget reform initiatives designed to head off a projected deficit.

My contacts confided in me that their organization is privately opposed to the health plan tax proposal but will not go on record to say so, much less getting involved in possible litigation. They cite two reasons for this seemingly contradictory stance.

First, their membership includes health insurance companies in addition to self-insured employers and they believe an outspoken defense of self-insurers would alienate this other membership constituency. The other rationale is if the boat was rocked on this issue, then some of the other “deals” presumed to be favorable to the employer community could fall apart.

Of course, the big picture was not taken into account. They acknowledge that the immediate negative financial impact for self-insured employers is bad but manageable. Not considered was that if state efforts to tax and/or regulate self-insured health plans are left unchecked, self-insurance may cease to be an attractive option for employers in Michigan and elsewhere, which would effectively trap employers in the traditional health insurance marketplace – a much more ominous situation than being subject to a one percent tax as problematic as that may be.

My contacts appreciated this analysis and agreed that there are, in fact, bigger issues at play. That said, the bottom line is that many within the leadership of their very influential organization would likely applaud an effort to push back against the health plan tax, but this would be private support with no organizational fingerprints.

So there you have it. The very important fight over ERISA preemption has been dealt away in Michigan in favor of other business community priorities that likely are less important to employers from a P&L perspective. It’s uncertain how things will eventually play out in Michigan, but this look behind the curtain on the relationship between state employer organizations and government exemplifies why the self-insurance industry has an ongoing challenge at the state level.

While the ability of employers to self-insure is more significant than most tax and regulatory initiatives (again from a P&L perspective), self-insurance issues simply do not get much attention for state organizations, which tend to have more broad-based legislative agendas. To be fair, this is understandable because these groups generally have diverse membership constituencies and not have the resources to focus on issues that only a single constituency. Moreover, the member representatives do not generally insist that their organization put self-insurance issues front and center.

To the extent that employers can be mobilized to rattle the cages of state business associations to pay more attention to self-insurance issues we may be able to turn “private support” to visible public advocacy on the future threats that are almost certain to arise.

Let the cage rattling begin.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Life Line for New York SIGs Falling Short While National Attention on Funds Sharpens

It appears my recent story “A New Life Line for Group Workers’ Comp Funds in New York” was overly optimistic and the obituary for SIGs in that state may indeed be published in the not too distant future.

According to knowledgeable sources, preliminary discussions about finding a reasonable compromise to allow well run New York SIGs to continue to operate have not panned out. At issue has been the posting of security to satisfy regulator concerns about solvency going forward.

The state’s workers’ compensation board pushed back against formulas proposed by industry that would allow funds sufficient access to cash to pay claims and other operating expenses. As a result, a new law has been passed requiring funds to post security equal to 160% of expected claims. With such a high bar, it is likely that the baby will be thrown out with the bath water.

There is some uncertainty, however, as the regulations to implement the new law has yet to be written and industry continues to press its case to the Governor and the Legislature that this law will have significant negative ramifications for the state’s workers’ compensation system. So stay tuned as there may additional twists to this story in months ahead.

But while New York has been the epicenter of actual legislative/regulatory activity affecting SIGs, it’s worth noting that the New York experience has spurred discussions in national forums.

Just last month at the National Council of Self-Insurers (NCSI) Annual Meeting, representatives from the California Self-Insurers Security Fund presented a session on SIGs. Although some good objective data was provided, there was an obvious bias evidenced by the fact that they were quick to point out the isolated problems within the SIG industry without acknowledging that the overwhelming number of SIGs are well run and provide smaller employers an important risk financing option.

It should not be surprising that the presentation concluded with comments suggesting that national standards for SIG regulation should be considered.

This discussion promises to pick up again next month Southeastern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) Annual Meeting as one of the featured sessions will discuss “warning signs for a SIG default.” This meeting typically attracts a large number of regulators so the meeting room is likely to be filled with those who may be inclined to make it more difficult for SIGs to operate.

While a serious regulatory push with national reach may not be right around the corner, those who have an interest in maintaining sensible SIG regulation should nonetheless pay attention to the discussions that are going on because developments can accelerate with little warning.

Not only do you have regulators encouraging each other to conform to group think about how to deal with SIGs, but the traditional insurance industry never misses an opportunity to stir the pot by trying to make funds look bad. The confluence of these dynamics should keep SIG industry stakeholders on their toes.

So we’ll watch to see how things continue to play out in New York while keeping an eye on other states who may not be able to resist on messing with a good thing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Obsessed With Adverse Selection

In case you haven’t heard, self-insurance is the gateway to adverse selection in the health insurance marketplace. Federal and state regulators have been sending up warning flares on this subject, but not surprisingly, their aim misses the mark.

This discussion has heated up as policy-makers look ahead to 2014 when state insurance exchanges are slated to come on-line and they try to predict market conditions and that time. For PPACA supporters, there’s a lot riding on making sure the exchanges work as promised so they are taking aim at any real or perceived obstacles. Adverse selection drivers are at the top of the list.

We saw this first in the HHS Report on the Large Group Market, which was published in March. In the report HHS commented that if low attachment point policies in the reinsurance (read stop-loss) market become more widely available by 2014, a significant number of fully-insured employers with “low risk” employees will switch to self-insurance, therefore creating adverse selection in the marketplace.

This section of the report concludes that “these results highlight the importance of closely monitoring the availability and pricing of reinsurance (stop-loss insurance) and closely monitoring decisions made by small employers to self-insure.”

A working draft of a recent NAIC white paper on the subject of adverse selection also points the finger at self-insurance as contributing to adverse selection. The NAIC writes: “Employers with favorable risk demographics have an incentive to self-fund while those with less desirable risks would tend to opt for fully-insured plans either through the exchange or in the outside market.”

Neither HHS nor the NAIC acknowledges one very important fact as part of their analysis, which is that most companies with fewer than 100 employees simply do not know if their group is a good risk because claims data is generally not available to them. In this regard, their “premeditation” argument is compromised.

Now it’s true that employers that switch to self-insurance can often improve the aggregate risk profile of their groups over time, regardless of the baseline at the time of transition, through wellness programs and other innovative plan design strategies, but shouldn’t that be the objective of all group health plans?

Let’s also recognize the importance of the HHS comment about “closely monitoring” the stop-loss market as way to guard against adverse selection. As described in my previous blog posting, Treasury Department Gets Schooled on stop-Loss Insurance, federal regulators now have a keen interest in stop-loss insurance for a variety of reasons.

This new federal attention combined with the ongoing desire by state legislators to expand their authority over self-insured health plans creates a very uncertain environment for future legislative/regulatory activity that could affect the ability of small and even mid-sized companies to self-insure.

There’s one last development on this subject worth mentioning. Some key House Republican staffers have indicated a renewed interest in introducing association health plan (AHP) legislation, but are holding back because of anticipated criticism that self-insured AHPs would contribute to adverse selection. So the education process continues on multiple fronts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Treasury Department Gets Schooled on Stop-Loss Insurance

Earlier this year, I wrote about how the Treasury Department/IRS had taken a keen interest in stop-loss insurance as evidenced by a request for comment notice regarding PPACA code section 162 m. At issue is how stop-loss insurance figures into new tax rules mandated by the health care reform law restricting the tax deduction health insurance companies can take for compensation paid to certain employees.

More precisely, Treasury/IRS is suspicious that self-insured health plans with low attachment point stop-loss policies are really fully-insured plans in disguise. This was made clear in a meeting this week with senior Treasury Department and IRS officials when Treasury’s point person on the issue commented that “obviously products that look, smell and breathe like health insurance have our attention.”

While the audience was new the line of interrogation was not.

In meetings with HHS and DOL officials late last year in connection with the preparation of PPACA-mandated reports on self-insured group health plans, pointed questions were raised about “sham self-insurance,” which has become a popular catch phrase among the regulator class.

Of course, this suspicion did not materialize immaculately. The HHS/DOL team volunteered that they had been lead to believe that sham self-insurance is commonplace. While they did not disclose their sources, it is reasonable to believe that our friends from AHIP were among those whispering in their ears.

Getting back to the meeting this week, Treasury/IRS picked up where HHS and DOL left off although without any obvious bias. Stop-loss was clearly a new animal to them and my sense was that they were truly interested to understand it better.

Joining me was the “Seal Team Six” of stop-loss insurance experts who deftly responded to questions about low attachment point stop-loss polices by pointing out that this does fit the business model of carriers which control the vast majority of the marketplace.

As part of this discussion it was pointed out that contrary to the hype that small employers are moving to self-insurance in big numbers (and buying low attachment point policies) to avoid PPACA regulatory requirements, the facts don’t bear this out. In fact, the carrier representatives noted that that the lack of claims data is a major hurdle for companies with fewer than 100 employees for making the switch to self-insurance. They reported that the real growth in the stop-loss marketplace is actually coming from larger employers who may have not utilized stop-loss insurance in the past but are buying it now in response to unlimited lifetime limits.

Oh and by the way, the contention that there is a motivation among smaller employers to self-insure to avoid new regulatory requirements is specious because for non-grandfathered self-insured plans there really are no significant regulatory advantages.

We also highlighted the fact that states regulate stop-loss insurance separately than health insurance, PPACA regulatory guidance has acknowledged the difference, and legal precedent supports this position. All in all we made a pretty compelling case why stop-loss insurance should not be construed as health insurance.

While a contrary interpretation would create tax complications for stop-loss carriers, the broader concern is that if the IRS comes out with a new definition of stop-loss insurance this could completely disrupt the current regulatory environment.

Our audience maintained poker faces throughout the meeting (which I suppose is typical of tax people) so it was tough to get a read on how they were digesting our input. We’ll know for sure when the proposed rule comes out, but that won’t like be published for a while because the new compensation rules are not scheduled to take effect until 2013.

In the meantime, it should be instructive to those in the self-insurance industry that federal regulators are watching what is going in the marketplace. For companies pushing the envelope with “innovative” stop-loss products beware that you may be inviting negative attention.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Self-Insurance Receives Seal of Approval

For the past several months I have been managing expectations about the content of separate reports on self-insured group health plans being developed by DOL and HHS. Or more to the point, I have preparing people for reports that conclude all sorts of awful things about self-insured plans. Not that I believe such anticipated criticisms are valid, but rather that it was obvious that self-insurance was “set up” to take a hit based on the PPACA legislative language mandating the studies, in particular the HHS study on the large group market. The stated objective of this study was to compare self-insured plans with fully-insured plans, which is fair enough. But Section 1254 instructs the HHS to investigate multiple perceived problems with self-insured plans while not including similar guidance for fully-insured plans, therefore essentially setting up a one-way fishing expedition. And by the way, this section along with the preceding section mandating the DOL report, were inserted at the last minute as part of the reconciliation process almost certainly at the request of the health insurance industry. So the fix was in from the jump. It has also been my view that there is a negative bias toward self-insurance within the regulatory agencies which would taint the review and reporting process. I say this based on fact that some key officials within these department have previously worked for members of Congress and/or think tanks that have been critical of self-insurance. My suspicion of such bias was heightened after a meeting with HHIS-contracted researchers who asked a series of very pointed about self-insurance that seemed to be “planted” by those with an interest in making self-insurance look bad. The researchers took a particular interest in what they termed “sham self-insurance,” translated to mean self-insured health plans utilizing stop-loss insurance with low attachment points. Now this line of questioning was easily dealt with of course, but we did get the impression that this could well be a situation where the agencies were digging for evidence to support pre-determined conclusions. But apparently there was not a thumb on the scale after all based on a review of the final reports that were released this week. So much for my prescient reputation! The main concern about the DOL report was that they would use bad and/or insufficient data to conclude there are solvency problems with self-insured health plans. But the agency acknowledged that they could not reach any policy conclusions due the lack of quality data. The HHS report appeared to be an opportunity for a host of self-insurance criticisms to be validated by the federal government. You know, the regular canards such as self-insured plans are less costly than traditional issuance because they deny lots of claims and offer skimpy benefits. But I am sure to the consternation of our friends at AHIP and others with market share or other motivations, the HHS report effectively refuted all of the common self-insurance criticisms by concluding little or no difference as compared to fully-insured plans. And for the icing on the cake, consider a little nugget tucked into an appendix of the DOL report which noted that from 2009 to 2010 for employers with more than 200 covered lives, the average fully-insured premium increased by $808 compared to an average increase of $248 for self-insured premiums. So instead of getting branded with a regulatory scarlet letter, self-insurance has effectively received a seal of approval. What an interesting turn of events.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A False Alarm at the IRS for TPAs

We normally report on actual legislative/regulatory developments, but this post discusses a false alarm coming from the IRS that appeared to subject health care TPAs to burdensome new reporting requirements in order to help head off any potential industry confusion.

At issue is Department of Treasury Final Rule 6050 W, which was published way back in August of last year. The rule is intended to define “third party transaction settlement organizations” in furtherance of the IRS’ goal of creating a mechanism to better track the flow of money within the economy.

A section in the preamble labeled “Healthcare Networks and Self-Insured Arrangements” got the belated attention of small circle of IRS observers who have a health care focus. The actual preamble language for this section (just three paragraphs) is as follows:

The proposed regulations included an example to demonstrate that health insurance networks are outside the scope of section 6050W because a health care network does not enable the transfer of funds from buyers to sellers. Instead, health carriers collect premiums from covered persons pursuant to a plan agreement between the health carrier and the covered person for the cost of participation in the health care network. Separately, health care carriers pay healthcare providers to compensate providers for services rendered to covered person pursuant to provider agreements. This example is retained in the final regulations.

A commenter requested that the final regulations clarify that a self-insurance arrangement is also outside the scope of Section 6050W. According to the commenter, a typical self-insured arrangement involves a health insurance entity, health care providers, and the company that is self-insuring. The company submits bills for services rendered by a health care provider to the health insurance entity. The health insurance entity pays the healthcare provider the contracted rate and then debits the self-insuring company’s bank account for the payments made to the healthcare providers.

This suggestion was not adopted because this arrangement could create a third party payment network of which the health insurance entity is the third party settlement organization to the extent that the health insurance entity effectively enables buyers (the self-insuring companies) to transfer funds to sellers of healthcare goods or services. If so, payments under a self-insurance arrangements are reportable provided the arrangement meets both the statutory definition of a third party payment network and de minimis threshold (that is, for a given payee, the aggregate payments for year exceed $20,000 and the aggregate number of transactions exceeds 200).

First, it was curious that the IRS received a single comment regarding self-insurance. Moreover, the commentator described self-insured arrangements in an odd way by using the term “health insurance entity” in an apparent reference to TPAs

Based on this interpretation, it would seem that the IRS did construe TPAs as third party payment networks. As a practical matter, this would mean that TPAs would have to expand their current 1099 Misc. reporting procedures to include payments to providers broken down on a monthly basis, which would be complicated and burdensome.

But upon a more detailed legal review of the full text of the regulations, it was concluded that TPAs did not meet the statutory definition of third party payment networks. One of the key considerations is that it is the employer and not the TPA which contracts with provider networks.

In this regard, it seems that the IRS may have indeed wanted to make TPAs subject to the rule, but the statutory language does appear not support this intent, possibly due to ignorance on the part of the Agency on how self-insured health plans operate and the role of the TPA.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for IRS rules to be tested in court so we will be watching to see if any enforcement actions and/or legal challenges arise on this issue.

A New "Life Line" for Group Workers' Comp. Funds in New York

In the wake of several high profile group workers’ compensation funds (SIGs) failures a few years ago, the future for other SIGs operating in that state has been looking bleak.

With the state on the hook for unpaid claims totaling between $300 million and $800 million (depending if you believe industry or government estimates) , policy-makers were formally recommending that most funds be shut down and impose such rigorous new regulations on the remaining funds that it would be almost impossible for them to continue to operate.

But just as the obituary for the state’s SIG industry was being written, the conversation has apparently turned from focusing on shutting everything down to finding a solution for letting the well run SIGs continue thanks to an effective lobbying campaign initiated by industry leaders and Group participants.

Specifically, a serious proposal has been floated to allow SIGs to post some form of security in amounts calculated based in their anticipated liabilities to satisfy regulatory concerns about solvency issues going forward.

This proposal may well serve as the framework for a solution, but there are key details which still need to be resolved in order secure “buy in” from both the state and the industry.

The first detail to determine how the security amount should be calculates so that it satisfies regulator concerns but still allows funds sufficient access to cash to pay claims. This is not such an important issue for well-established SIGs with large cash reserves, but is critical to those SIGs that have not had the opportunity to build up such large reserves.

Another open question is the specific "security vehicle" the state would require and the additional transactional expense to the Group. Industry experts have expressed concerns about surety bonds that are fully secured with irrevocable letters because the bond underwriter has the LOC in their hand, so SIGs could never use that cash until it is given back and then replaced with a lesser LOC (assuming it goes down), which can be a difficult process and can be further complicated if the state remains inflexible to changing requirements that could occur depending on cash needs.

As an alternative, it has been suggested the security vehicle be in the form of a restricted investment/ cash account that would require signoff by the state Workers’ Compensation Board but is not wrapped up in an instrument such as an LOC or surety bond.

Another alternative suggestion would be to utilize Reg 114 trusts in which the reinsurer post the cash, freeing up SIG assets to capitalize a captive.

We’ll see how all this plays out but at least there is a viable “lifeline” in the water for the state’s well run SIGs.

In the meantime, we are aware that the state has received proposals for loss portfolio transfer arrangements in order transfer future liabilities back to the private sector, but out sources tell us that disagreement regarding the amount of the liabilities has prevented any deals from being finalized so far

Finally, we continue to wait on an appeal from a State Supreme Court ruling that determined it was constitutional for the state to assess member companies of financially solvent SIGs for the claims liabilities incurred by now insolvent funds.
This should be an easy ruling assuming an objective review of the law, but this is New York after all, so stay tuned. We will report on the ruling when it is announced.

Stop-Loss Insurance, Reinsurance and "Partially Self-Insured" -- We Need to Talk

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but words mean things. I make this seemingly odd comment because I continue to observe a couple words being misused by self-insurance industry professionals on a regular basis and we all need to get on the same page.

Perhaps most aggravating is the term “partially self-insured,” which continues to get tossed around to describe self-insured health plans that utilize stop-loss insurance. Of course there is no such thing as being “partially” self-insured so the term is sloppy at best and can actually be harmful.

I say harmful because from a lobbying perspective, we are continually emphasizing the distinction between fully-insured and self-insured health plans. This “partial” description is often thrown back in our face in attempt to undermine our public policy and legal arguments, so this objection to the term is strictly academic. And those who use it against us have picked it up….from us!

The more subtle yet equally problematic imprecise word choice is when “reinsurance” is used interchangeably with “stop-loss” insurance. Reinsurance involves an insurance contract between two insurance entities, so by saying reinsurance when you really mean stop-loss insurance this implies that self-insured employers are insurance entities, which confuses policy-makers and has created legal uncertainty in some cases. Again, we have only ourselves to blame.

And that concludes our self-insurance vocabulary lesson (and sermon) for the day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Big Win for Captives in the Big Sky State -- And Related News

The Montana State Legislature only meets for two months every two years so getting a bill passed requires a certain amount of precision. So it is particularly impressive that legislation to significantly improve the state’s captive insurance statute cleared the House and Senate by near unanimous votes and is expected to be signed into law by the governor.

Among other things, the legislation allows for the formation of incorporated cell and special purpose captives, which will make Montana one of the most progressive captive domiciles in the United States.

The interesting backstory is the amount of meaningful consultation that took place between industry proponents and key regulators within the state auditor’s office in developing the legislative language. There was genuine push and pull over the course of several meetings spanning several months. The final product met industry’s objective in creating new opportunities for captive formations, while incorporating sufficient safeguards to provide the regulators with a level of comfort.

We will now be watching to see if companies take advantage of the new law.

In related news, an incorporated cell captive bill is now pending in the Vermont state Legislature. Perhaps they were inspired by Montana.

The long slog continues in South Carolina to push through captive legislation dealing with incorporated cell captives and other updates to the statute there. The outcome still remains uncertain but headwinds seem to prevail.

Rounding out our domicile legislative round-up, a captive bill has been introduced in the Tennessee Legislature that was put together by taking the best provisions from captive laws in multiple domiciles. It’s too early to say whether the legislation will pass this year, but if it does Tennessee is sure to attract national attention.

A new era of captive regulatory structures seems to be emerging across the country. Will our industry’s “big thinkers” be up to the challenge on delivering the next generation of innovative ART programs to prove the potential is real?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Digesting Health Care Reform

So we hurry up and wait.

That is perhaps the most apt description of how self-insured employers and their business partners have adapted to the new health care law and the ongoing reform process it has triggered.

For obvious reasons, we saw a flurry of activity immediately after the passage of PPACA to first determine what was actually in the legislation and then to move forward with compliance planning. This stage seems to have largely passed and now we are in an extended waiting period until 2014, which is when the health insurance exchanges are scheduled to come on-line and the next wave of regulatory requirements, such as the employer mandate, are upon us.

With that timeline framed, let’s take a look at where things stand today and possible legislative/regulatory developments over the next three years.

Clearly there is curiosity with regard to self-insured employer reaction to PPACA as we approach the first anniversary of the law’s enactment. A recent outreach effort to employers of various sizes generated feedback that concluded the law has not created any significant hurdles for them to continue to self-insure, at least in the short run.

The biggest issue seems to be whether or not employers want to retain grandfather status of their health plans. Although unscientific, the feedback suggests it is almost an even split regarding grandfather status decision.

We also received feedback on other issues such administrative burdens, plan design changes, wellness programs and stop-loss cost. When this information was aggregated, the observation is that while there is general discomfort with adapting to the new law, employers are sticking with self-insured health plans, at least for time being.

More on the longer term employer view later, but first we need to stay focused on health care reform developments that will play out in the coming weeks and months, which could influence events before 2014.

Separate HHS and DOL reports dealing with self-insured health plans will likely be released this month and despite efforts to ensure that the regulators are fully educated about self-insurance, there is probably a better than average chance that these reports will contain negative commentary.

Key members of Congress and their staff have already been briefed in advanced about possible biased findings, and we have been generally encouraged by the supportive responses. That said, we could very well see self-insured health plans being one of the focal points in future legislative developments if official government reports conclude that such plans impede overall health reform implementation efforts.

The most likely threat would be legislation to restrict smaller employers from self-insuring, similar to a provision actually included in an early version of the PPACA legislation that SIIA was able to have stripped.

As previously reported, the IRS is also looking to define stop-loss insurance, which was an unanticipated consequence of the health care law. We expect a face-to-face meeting any day to get a better understanding of the agency’s thinking and I will be sure to publish a recap of this meeting, so be sure to check back regularly.

It was interesting to hear President Obama’s comments at the National Governors Association meeting this week that he is agreeable for moving up the timeline for states to be available to apply for waivers to the health care law if they develop their own reform plans that achieve the same access and affordability outcomes as the administration anticipates through PPACA implementation.

This offer was made in response to complaints from numerous governors that the new health care law will greatly increase costs to the states due to expanded Medicaid obligations. And of course, it was classic Obama rhetoric – a politically appealing sound bite that doesn’t square with reality.

Of course, the hitch with this offer is that a state-based plan must meet an artificially high bar for outcomes in order to be approved, so the reality is that it is unlikely that any waivers will actually be granted. As such, it is probably premature to be concerned about ERISA preemption issues, but we will certainly keep an eye on things.

In a bit of positive news, some of our reliable sources in Congress have signaled a renewed interest in association health plan (AHP) legislation, which would include a self-insurance option. They tell us, however, that the one hurdle to overcome is the perception that AHPs would contribute to adverse selection and therefore compromise larger health care reform objectives.

We are working to address these concerns now, so stay tuned for a possible return of AHPs as a serious topic for discussion on Capitol Hill.

Then there are the legal challenges to PPACA. Just today, Florida Federal Judge Robert Vinson put the Obama on notice that they have seven days to file an motion for expedited appellate review of the individual mandate constitutionality question or 26 state will be allowed to hold off on any PPACA implementation actions pending a final ruling by the Supreme Court. This has made things even more interesting.

There will be more short term health care reform legislative/regulatory developments for sure, but I thought it would be useful to highlight those on the radar screen today.

Now let’s return to the longer view of PPACA from the self-insured employer perspective. The real uncertainly arrives in 2014 when companies are required to provide health coverage or pay a penalty (play or pay).

From talking with several employer representatives, we have learned that most companies have been running numbers to test both scenarios, but are generally keeping tight-lipped about any conclusions at this early date. So essentially, the self-insurance marketplace has moved quickly to adapt to the new health care regulatory environment and now the waiting begins for potentially bigger shoes to drop going forward and the resulting reaction from self-insured employer and there business partners.

Settle in…it’s going to be a long ride.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Overriding an NAIC "Veto" In Congress

It’s not often that the self-insurance/ART industry successfully pushes back against the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) on an important legislative/regulatory matter, but I am pleased to report one initial small victory.

For the past few years, I have been involved in lobbying for federal legislation that would modernize the Liability Risk Retention Act (LRRA). This legislative initiative has included three basic objectives: 1) allow risk retention groups to write commercial property coverage; 2) establish standardized corporate governance standards, and 3) create a new federal arbitration mechanism that RRGs can utilize in cases of disputes with non-domiciliary regulators.

This last objective has attracted predictable opposition from the NAIC and individual regulators warning that such federal oversight would compromise state-based regulation of insurance. This is a canard, of course, because our approach actually strengthens state regulation by allowing for the validation of decisions made by an RRG’s domiciliary regulator.

In spite of the this common sense analysis, the NAIC has demonstrated de facto veto power in Congress on getting LRRA legislation passed with an arbitration provision, blocking bill introduction last year in the Senate. Apparently, however, this veto power now has some limits.
It was recently confirmed that Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) will introduce LRRA legislation this session including the arbitration provision. This is notable because Senator Tester had resisted supporting this initiative during the last Congress in deference to home state insurance regulator Monica Lindeen who had been pressing the NAIC party line.

We are not sure why Senator Tester has chosen to change course on this, but the heavy lobbying by many of his constituents, including the Montana Captive Insurance Association (MCIA), has certainly contributed to this positive momentum.

Of course, this is just one development in a lengthy and difficult process to get the legislation passed and signed into law. But the fact that the NAIC has not been able to successfully exercise a veto at this early stage confirms that it is possible for our industry to make good things happen despite state regulator angst.

We fully expect to bump up against NAIC opposition as the congressional session continues. Stay tuned to see how the balance of power tilts.

A Fresh Look at Mandating Health Insurance Coverage

Requiring individuals to maintain health insurance coverage is a good idea. There, I said it despite my libertarian leanings.

Yes, an individual mandate may be unconstitutional. And the prospect for more government control is not appealing but there is a strong case to be made that this is perhaps the one redeemable provision (in concept) within the 3,000-page health care law.

The obvious advantage is that by creating a health care system where everyone has insurance you dramatically expand the risk pool, which is a proven way to drive down costs especially when more younger and healthier individuals are covered.

On this latter note, high deductible plans should certainly be an option to fulfill a coverage requirement.

Proponents of an individual mandate cite the auto insurance analogy to support their position that there is precedent for compelling individuals to take responsibility for financial risk but they get caught flat-footed with the counterpoint that driving a car is voluntary activity and therefore it is appropriate for government to establish conditions unlike health insurance where there is no such activity.

But let’s take a closer look at this comparison.

If someone gets in an automobile accident and does not have insurance, their car will not be towed into an automotive emergency room and fixed without consideration to ability to pay. Rather, The car will remain damaged, or totaled until such time the owner can pay to repair or replace it. The financial liability is not shifted to anyone else.

Now if the driver gets admitted to the hospital as a result of this accident they will get “repaired” regardless of their ability to pay. And if they aren’t able to pay the cost will be shifted to other health care payers, including self-insured employers.

This fact should give even libertarians pause in opposing an individual mandate because a person’s decision not to maintain insurance has an adverse impact on the larger population and compromises the principal of self-reliance. After all, when is the last time you heard of someone refusing essential treatment because they knew they could not pay?

Requiring health insurance coverage would also benefit the self-insurance industry because more individuals would chose to enroll in their employers’ group plans, thereby expanding the risk pools for employers while increasing revenue potential for service providers.

To be sure, the way the individual mandate provision as incorporated in the PPACA is flawed, largely because the specific penalties and incentives will not likely achieve the desired results. But that is not to say that this approach should be rejected outright. Properly structured, an individual mandate could help put our health care system on the right track.

It’s unfortunate that President Obama and the Democratic Congress wrapped so much bad stuff around this targeted health care reform approach that we will likely never know how it may have worked.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Show Me The Money -- Politics and the Self-Insurance/ART Industry

The self-insurance/alternative industry is a major force in the U.S. economy, but it is largely invisible to most members of Congress. It is similarly cloaked at the state level.

So why the disconnect? Follow the money trail, or should I say the absence of such a trail.

While it’s rare these days that political contributions can explicitly “buy votes,” the reality is that financial support normally does get you access to politicians, which allows interest groups to deliver their messages in an unfiltered way.

Almost every major industry gets this concept. Sadly, our industry is one of the few notable exceptions.

This conclusion is easily quantified by looking at the political contributions made by the business community generally and the traditional insurance industry more specifically. They dwarf what has been contributed by those with an interest in protecting and promoting self-insurance.

As my role within our industry has evolved over the past few years, I have become what political operatives call a “money man,” which means I am responsible for passing the hat to collect contributions for politicians that we hope will support various legislative/regulatory priorities.

Obviously this role has provided me a unique perspective on our industry’s historic stinginess and naivety about how the political process really works.

Now of course there are exceptions. Many companies and individuals reach for their checkbooks immediately upon request and do this enthusiastically. But in my experience, soliciting political contributions is a tough sell in most cases.

Complicating matters is that political contributions at the federal level must be done through personal checks or credit cards. No corporate money is allowed.

Interestingly, there are countless individuals who have made a very nice living though their involvement in the self-insurance/ART industry, but hesitate when asked to financially support political initiatives that will help the industry. It’s difficult to square this reality.

Other individuals have the mindset that they are willing to write a check, but only when there’s a hot issue. That’s short sighted.

For those of us who clearly understand the concept of insurance, you know you can’t purchase property insurance when your house is burning down or health insurance when in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Making targeted political contributions is the equivalent of purchasing insurance to mitigate possible future legislative/regulatory risks.

One complication is that our industry is comprised of corporate buyers (employers) and service providers. These two segments have different motivations and capabilities for political involvement.

Service providers generally have a top-line interest in legislative/developments. In other words, they consider how such developments will affect revenue generation. In my experience this is the most powerful motivation to write a check.

Risk/benefit manager types, on the other hand, are focused on the expense line. They just want to be able to utilize self-insurance vehicles to control costs with minimal regulatory hassles. And while most view this as important, it’s uncommon that they will write a personal check in support of a corporate objective for which they do stand to directly benefit financially.

That’s not a criticism, it’s simply reality. And because of this reality, a large number of people in our industry will be confined to the sidelines of political involvement making it even more important that service providers pick up the slack.

Despite our industry’s historical underperformance in the money game, I am actually cautiously optimistic for the future. My sense is that the messaging just needs to be sharpened so that political contributions are viewed as both insurance and investments.

I will be directly involved in some targeted political fund-raising efforts over the next couple months and expect to have many one-on-one conversations as part of passing the hat. This will give me a new opportunity to test my assumptions.

Will people show me the money? I’ll circle back on this topic in the near future and let you know.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ADA 2.0 Packs a Sharper Edge for Workers' Comp. Self-Insurers

The landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 substantively changed workplace rules in ways that required employers to adapt a variety of hiring and return-to-work practices in order to maintain compliance.

Now 20 years later, the ADA has been amended and the implications for workers’ compensation self-insurers are significant. At issue is that ADA 2.0 will impose several new restrictions on how return-to-work programs can be structured.

The new final regulations are expected to be released this spring, but in anticipation of this expanded regulatory reach some self-insured employers have already felt the sting.

Over the past the year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been quietly adding nearly 300 investigators to enforce ADA requirements. Most recently, they have been targeting larger companies (generally self-insured) to determine if their return-to-work programs are ADA 2.0 compliant.

This is a fundamental change in EEOC’s historical approach of investigating claims made by specific employees. In other words, the EEOC is now essentially conducting on-site “audits” to determine possible ADA 2.0 violations.

Companies are already starting to pay big fines as part of negotiated settlements as the EEOC flexes its muscles in advance of the release of final regulations – proactive enforcement, indeed.

For example, late last year Sears settled an EEOC complaint for $6 million in connection with its employee absence policy that was deemed to improperty accommodate disabled workers. United Airlines recently paid more than $600,000 for a policy that refused the allow returning workers with disabilities to work reduced hour shifts.

With the EEOC investigative staffing ramp up, it’s clear that audit and enforcement efforts will pick up significantly this year and likely entangle many workers’ compensation self-insurers with carefully structured return-to-work programs.

The good news is that there are ways that employers can make sure they are ADA 2.0 compliant and we’ll report on that in the coming months.

In the meantime, the march of big government continues.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Judge Heard What Healh Care Law Did Not Say

It’s ironic that the ultimate fate of the nearly 3,000 page Patient Protection and Affordable Act (PPACA) may hinge on what was not included in the legislation.

Today’s ruling by a federal appellate court judge in Florida that the law’s individual mandate provision is unconstitutional is certainly important, but even more significant is that the judge also ruled that entire law must be struck down on the basis on non-severability. In other words, if a single provision does not pass constitutional muster, then it all gets thrown out.

This is particularly interesting because shortly after the passage of PPACA, it came to light that the law did not include a severability provision, which is a pretty standard clause for most comprehensive legislation. To this day no one really knows for sure the reason for this important omission, although the most likely theory is that it was drafting error made in the rush to pass the legislation.

Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said that we needed to pass the bill to know what’s in it. Apparently we also needed to pass the bill to know what was not in it.

I have written and commented about this small but important legislative detail frequently over the past year. On more than one occasion someone has challenged me that it is not realistic to think that the entre law could be thrown out even if specific provision were voided by the courts. Conventional wisdom misses the mark once again.

So it’s off to the Supreme Court we go and we’ll see if at least five justices hear what the health care law did not say.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Self-Insurance Faces a Triple Regulatory Threat

SIIA has reported recently on a series of the meetings with DOL and HHS officials to discuss PPACA-mandated studies on self-insurance. Our assumption is that at a minimum there is ignorance among regulators, but more likely a negative bias pervades.

We are working to head off a DOL report that concludes smaller employers should not self-insure due to solvency concerns and a separate HHS report suggesting that self-insured health plans will negatively impact health insurance exchanges due to adverse selection concerns.

While the policy battle rages on these two fronts, self-insurance is now being targeted by a third team of regulators. The Treasury Department has recently developed a keen interest in stop-loss insurance of all things.

The hook for the IRS folks is that the new health care law limits the tax deduction companies that sell fully-insured health insurance products may take for the compensation they pay to their employees. In other words, if a company sells “health insurance,” the company is subject to this tax deduction limitation. And guess what, it looks like the IRS and Treasury officials are confusing stop-loss insurance with health insurance.

Consider the following excerpt from an IRS publication regarding this tax deduction limitation, requesting comments from the public on:

"the application of the deduction limitation for services performed for insurers who are captive or who provide reinsurance or stop loss insurance, and specifically with respect to stop loss insurance arrangements that effectively constitute a direct health insurance arrangement because the attachment point is so low." (See IRS Notice 2011-2).

So, not only are the Treasury officials asking insurance practitioners how they should treat, for example, stop-loss policies, Treasury is explicitly asking for comments on how they should treat these policies, especially policies with a low attachment point.

Interestingly, this was reported to be a hot subject of discussion at an American Bar Association meeting for tax practitioners last week in Florida. Can you picture a bunch of tax lawyers with no background in self-insurance trying to figure out stop-loss insurance? Yep, that’s a scary thought.

But back to the IRS. Should it conclude that stop-loss insurance can be defined as health insurance for even its limited tax treatment purposes, a troublesome precedent will be established. For more than two decades, SIIA has been largely successful in pushing back on state efforts to regulate stop-loss insurance like health insurance.

A contrary interpretation by the feds will likely embolden those who seek to impose new regulations on self-insured plans via their stop-loss insurers. That’s the last thing the industry needs.

So, with stop-loss insurance under a Treasury Department microscope, self-insurance now faces a true regulatory triple threat. Watch for additional updates on this important developing story.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Domiciles

This month brought interesting news from two neighboring captive domiciles that portend two different paths in the years ahead.

In Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam appointed Julie McPeak as the new commerce and insurance commissioner. This is big news for the self-insurance world because not only does McPeak understand alternative risk transfer, she has been an advocate for self-insureds and captives in her capacity as an attorney over the past few years.

Before that, she was the chief insurance regulator for the state of Kentucky and directly contributed to the captive insurance industry taking hold in that state.

Several months ago, then candidate Haslam approached Ms. McPeak to solicit her opinion on how the insurance industry could contribute to economic development in that state. She talked-up captives among other initiatives and apparently her input made a positive impression on the soon-to-be governor.

Tennessee can best be described today as a “dormant” captive domicile because it has a captive insurance statute, but no energy or resources have been committed by either the private or public sector to encourage captive formations in that state.

Ms. McPeak’s appointment has the real potential to change this. Work is already underway to update the state’s captive law to make it one of the most progressive and competitive in the country,

With a favorable law (assuming it can be passed through the Legislature) combined with a regulator who is willing to champion alternative risk transfer solutions, the key ingredients are in place to transform this domicile from dormancy to vibrancy.

Now let’s compare and contrast Tennessee with the nearby domicile South Carolina.

As most industry observers know, South Carolina has seen a reversal of fortune over the last several years as a captive insurance domicile. Its rapid growth and success in the early years has been stalled for some time, largely due to the state’s insurance department, which has increasingly been at odds with the captive insurance industry.

Industry leaders pleaded with newly-elected Governor Nikki Haley to appoint a new insurance commissioner who could restore the state’s status as one of the world’s premiere captive domiciles.

Interestingly, Ms. McPeak’s name had been floated last year as a possible candidate who could rescue captives in South Carolina, but it was obviously not to be.

Instead, Government Haley last week named David Black, CEO of Liberty Life Insurance Company to the post.

Now, Mr. Black does have solid business credentials but he is clearly not an altenative market guy, which means there will be a learning curve about captives at a minimum and no guarantee that he will be an advocate.

This latter point is important because it’s not good enough to be just luke warm about captives. The reason for this is that in order for any captive insurance domicile to grow the bureaucracy must be constantly tamed and that takes top-down leadership imposing a vision of true public-private partnership and demanding results.

The bureaucracy inside the South Carolina Department of Insurance is particularly challenging with regard to the captive application and review process, so the leadership demands are particularly acute.

We will soon see if Mr. Black is up to his challenge. Ms. McPeak is certainly up to hers.

This tale of these two domiciles will continue.