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Uber Insurance, Fair Risk Distribution, Political Correctness, American Politics

Posted By Thom Young, March 29, 2016

Uber Isn’t Above the Law

It wouldn’t be a blog without some comment about Uber. As I’ve often indicated in the past, the laws regarding the operation and use of livery vehicles in urban areas clearly define vehicles for hire. While many have repeatedly referred to the unique manner in which the Uber ride-sharing works, it is a taxi service by another name with unlicensed individuals and automobiles operating outside of the current rules. Recently in several Canadian jurisdictions, and of particular note to us in Edmonton and Calgary, the municipal authorities have bent over backwards to somehow accommodate the Uber approach to moving people around for a fee. In each case, they’ve attempted to change the rules not only to allow Uber to operate but also to ensure that it operates with the same standards of equipment, driving experience, and insurance as taxi companies. These equivalencies have proven to remove the Uber advantage, though they haven’t seemed to deter Uber from operating (even though Uber has claimed to have removed itself from some jurisdictions). The result has been urban sting operations run by bylaw enforcement officers and an increase in the number of people being charged for operating a taxi service without a license. While the fight isn’t over yet, the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same.

Ensure you let your clients know that the insurance restrictions on the use of their private-passenger vehicles do not allow them to operate as vehicles for hire. They need to know that doing so will place their coverage at risk in the event of an accident, and their material misrepresentation in the use of their vehicle on the application will probably make them a poor risk from then on. Stay tuned, this discussion isn’t over.

Fair and Equitable Distribution of Risk

Modern technology continues to improve risk selection in every facet of the insurance industry. In the life and group benefits side of our business, the ability to analyze the predisposition of an individual to incur a certain kind of medical event that influences morbidity (disability) or mortality (death) has reached the point that the percentile of accuracy for some things is approaching 100%. In our industry, risk selection is a primary component in the competitive success of our product pricing. If a potential claim can be avoided in the company’s underwritten pool, then the members of that group (the insureds) benefit through lower premiums and the managers of the pool (the insurers) benefit through better returns on capital invested to sustain the group. What appears to be a win-win situation at first glance is, however, more complicated for those who form the group with a certainty of a claim. These people become uninsured or are pooled with higher risk insureds and create the opposite effect on the performance of those pools. Higher premiums occur for the insureds and lower returns for the insurers.

For insurance to work, the transference of claims cost to the group has to occur in a fair manner. While many may dismiss ethical concerns from the risk-selection process, the sharing of claims costs for high risk groups has beneficial attributes in the normal marketplace. Automobile insurance is a particularly good example in which those with very poor driving records are still able to obtain at least the statutory insurance coverage necessary to operate a motor vehicle on public highways through a pooling of high risk drivers in the Facility. All insurers operating in the jurisdiction participate in the pooling and subsidize it with capital and cash contributions. Of course, they also share in the distribution of any excesses that occur. This pooling ensures that everyone can get insurance. Without a facility association for Life, Group benefits, or Property and Casualty coverages, it is possible to become uninsurable for these classes of coverage. The industry has no requirement to serve the public should individuals be identified as “high risk” for any reason.

Apart from the government-mandated catch-all that the Facility provides to ensure that everyone who is legally required to have insurance can obtain it, the highly regulated automobile insurance structure also defines the nature of the groups that people are put into for premium calculations. Within reason, automobile insurers can select who they wish to insure, but they cannot reject providing coverages to people who qualify for the posted classes or create rates based on new criteria and information outside of the rating parameters set out in the regulations. When auto insurers start to use new criteria to select risks without getting the criteria approved, the regulator gets quite annoyed and, as we saw in Alberta, will implement reforms to ensure the public isn’t unfairly selected against in the underwriting process.

My original intent in this story was to point out once again that underwriting predictions are increasing in accuracy due to the ability to analyze the data and define the insureds into increasingly selective groups based on predictions of loss. This accuracy is great for making profitable inroads in the marketplace. Being able to select those who have a lower predictive chance to have a claim creates a huge competitive advantage in the marketplace. The trouble is that the service of insurance is about covering claims, not about avoiding claims or avoiding the people who are likely to incur claims. If data defines those who will not have claims to the extent that the risks are almost certain, risk management procedures will remove many individuals from the insurance pools. This loss in premiums increases the loss ratios. The end result is increased premiums for those who are going to have claims. Far too often, the underwriters believe their goal is to eliminate claims through selection. However, the insurance process only works when enough money is charged to pay for our costs of doing business, including a fair return on investment to our shareholders and paying the claims incurred by the people we insure. Finding the average risk is the purpose of underwriting, not identifying the lowest risk. Without the good risks contributing to the pool, the price of the coverage becomes unobtainable, and without the bad risks driving claims against the pool, the need for coverage at all becomes debatable. Balancing insurance pools with these competing realities is going to become harder and harder as our technology allows us to select the risks without consideration of the average.

Clear as mud?

Politically Correct?

How many differing opinions can dance around the point of a pin without offending the dancers? I’m a big fan of a pluralistic perspective. In terms of social decency, that means you’re welcome to your thoughts and I’m welcome to my thoughts. While my tolerance of your perspective isn’t required, my respect for your right to them is.

The term “politically correct” has been attributed to a number of sources. Most recently an email has been circulating referencing discussions between President Harry S. Truman and General George McArthur using the term in organizing the surrender of Japan to the Allied Powers at the end of WWII. Like most of those stories, this one is untrue and puts General McArthur in a poor light. The history books show McArthur was more concerned and aware of the cultural issues in those negotiations than anyone. Wikipedia documents the use of the term in English writings from the 16th century: “In 1793, the term ‘politically correct’ appeared in a U.S. Supreme Court judgment of a political lawsuit. The term also had occasional use in other English-speaking countries. The term probably entered use in the United Kingdom around 1975.”

My issue with the manner in which the term is most often used is that it suggests that being polite and respectful to others who hold different views on any number of topics is a fault or imposition. These disparaging implications suggest, “I’m being civil and respectful only because the majority considers it necessary, not because I am.” That’s quite a disingenuous point of view, isn’t it?

Certainly, we don’t all have to agree on everything and hold utopian ideals. Vigorous debate and discussion with elevated passion and even vitriol enlarges our minds. In the end though, after both perspectives are presented, we need to go our own way respectfully hoping that others will join us and agreeing to disagree!

The American silly season is in full swing. Sanity seems to have been set aside in that political contest, especially on the conservative side of the aisles. Somehow attacking the premise of being politically correct has become equated with an attack on flawed ideology. Making outrageous statements against people based on their heritage, culture, gender, and other preferences seems to be garnering support from the body politic within the conservative movement. Suspending human rights and violating international treaties that govern proper behaviour in conflicts all appear to be getting a majority of support and are reported on particularly by the conservative media as the new way of doing things.

Clearly, only part of the story is being told here. As usual, the more outrageous the news, the more it gets played for our attention. In reality, the majority of people continue to believe that being correct is more about proper behaviour than it is about political interaction. As we will soon see the American contest of wills on the political front come to a four-year conclusion this November, the success of a politics of bigotry, hatred, and fear will become evident in the outcome. I’ve little doubt that the winners will be more inclined to favour the pluralistic view than what we’re hearing in the press these days. As a long-time conservative, I am hopeful that I can wear that moniker without being compared to the nuts that claim to speak for us.

In Closing

The Easter weekend is almost over. Running my own family resort has been fun this year but, I must say, busy and a little stressful. Spring break always has been like that for us though. I hope the Ishtar bunny brought you many treats and that you enjoyed the holiday from whatever perspective brings you joy. I am now going hiking on the Apache trail!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.

 

Tags:  data management  ethics  Facility Association  group benefits  insurance regulation  life insurance  livery business  politically correct  ride sharing  risk distribution  risk management  statutory coverage  taxi regulations  Uber 

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