According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States as thus far endured a total of 12 natural disasters causing at least $1 billion in damage each in 2016. Included in that number are four major flooding events and eight severe storms.  By comparison, from 1980 through 2000, the average annual number of billion-dollar natural disasters, as measured using CPI-adjusted figures,  was merely 3.7.

NOAA’s numbers indicate that we have entered an era in which costly weather-related disasters are troublingly commonplace.  While 2016 has been a devastating year for such events, it is hardly an outlier.  In 2015, we saw 10 billion-dollar disasters; in 2011, NOAA recorded 16.  All told, from 2001 through the present, the average number of such disasters per year jumped to 7.7.

The increasing frequency of large-scale weather-related disasters is hardly a surprise. See the federal government’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, which predicted this increase in dire terms.  Insurers and their commercial clients, not to mention government agencies at all levels, will be forced to cope — through increased premiums for insurance lines, risk-mitigation measures, improved infrastructure, and disaster preparedness.

Last week the Maryland Insurance Administration revealed that six new insurers have been licensed to do business in Maryland this year, and that 11 previously licensed insurers have been approved to sell additional insurance products. This is very good news not only for Maryland’s insurance industry, but for Marylanders as well.

The arrival of new insurers should inject competitive energy into our state’s insurance market and provide consumers with a greater range of options. The approved applicants include life and health insurers, as well as companies licensed to provide workers’ compensation, mortgage guaranty, and surety insurance.

The competitiveness of state insurance markets has been questioned for years, especially with respect to health insurance. Supporters of the Affordable Care Act hoped the law would increase competition, but now the industry is looking to consolidate further (see proposed merger between Anthem and Cigna). In light of these developments, today’s announcement comes as welcome news indeed. The more companies competing for business, the better.

The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has placed health insurers under substantial financial pressure. This pressure appears to be resulting in an increasing number of healthcare claim denials.

Unfortunately, the increase, if it exists, cannot be documented with hard data; historical data on the number of healthcare claim denials issued by private insurers doesn’t exist. The ACA now requires qualified health plans to report data on denials, but participating insurers only began doing so in 2015.

Anecdotal evidence, however, clearly points to an increase.

As a former Senior Counsel to the Maryland Insurance Administration, and now a private practice attorney concentrating in insurance law, I am receiving more and more calls from people facing financial crises caused by health insurers’ denials of large medical claims.  I have represented a number of clients who had large health insurance claims denied, only to see the insurer reverse the denial once I was hired to fight back.  Continue Reading

While our politicians debate the merits of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”), insurers continue to deny health insurance claims by the thousands every year. These denials often saddle consumers with outsized medical debts they cannot afford.

As a former Senior Counsel to the Maryland Insurance Administration and now an attorney in private practice, I have been receiving an increasing number of calls from individuals facing personal financial crises caused by health insurance claim denials. Unfortunately, there is a real difference between obtaining a health insurance policy and forcing the insurer to provide coverage when you need it most.

Large claim denials can devastate a family’s finances and add to the stress caused by serious illness or injury. Some of my clients have been stuck with six-figure medical bills and forced to fight their insurance company even while struggling to regain their health. Fortunately, when insurance claims are improperly denied, policy holders do have options. They can often force their insurers to reverse their initial denials and provide coverage.

A case in point: I recently convinced BlueCross BlueShield of Maryland to withdraw voluntarily a denial of coverage for a $160,000 microprocessor-controlled “Genium” prosthetic knee.  Continue Reading

All insurance producers with Maryland resident or non-resident licenses should be aware that the Maryland Insurance Administration has released a newly approved Limited Lines Registration form. It can be accessed here.

Alex Brown is the Chair of Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler P.A.’s Insurance Law Department, and a former Senior Counsel to the Maryland Insurance Administration. If you have questions about your limited lines registration, or other issues that you would like to discuss, please feel free to contact Mr. Brown at 410-385-4220, or by email at ajb@shapirosher.com.

In a recent case from the Supreme Court of California, the court held than an insurer can recover allegedly excessive and unnecessary defense fees directly from the insureds’ independent Cumis counsel.  Although the court limited its holding in a number of respects, the case could have major implications for those serving as independent Cumis counsel in California and other jurisdictions. Continue Reading

In the coming months, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument on a critical subrogation issue under the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). The case is Montanile v. Board of Trustees of the National Elevator Industry Health Benefit Plan, Case No. 14-723, and is set for argument before the Court on November 9. Proponents on both sides argue that a ruling for either party will have serious implications for insurance plan participants.

In granting certiorari, the Supreme Court noted “[e]ight of the thirteen circuits have squarely and openly disagreed over the question presented[,]” which has resulted in “a widely acknowledged 6-2 circuit split.”  The issue to be decided is whether the Petitioner, Robert Montanile, must reimburse his insurance company for medical expenses it paid before he received a settlement from the drunk driver who injured him.  Continue Reading

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, drones are the fastest growing segment of the aviation industry. Corporate risk managers predict that within five years, 40 percent of all businesses will be using drones as part of their operations. As commercial drone use rises, so will the need – and the demand – for commercial drone insurance.

By 2020, the FAA estimates that the skies will be filled with 30,000 commercial and civil drones providing such services as aerial photography, package delivery, crop and wildlife protection, and much more. Continue Reading

Given the important role that commercial insurance plays in protecting, and sometimes saving, businesses of every size, smart companies pay attention to their insurance applications, insurance policies and other communications from their insurer. The cost of having a competent law firm conduct an audit of a company’s risks and insurance coverage pales in comparison to an expensive lawsuit against an insurance company when a claim is rejected.

An recent case in Alabama provides a good example of the harm that can be caused when policyholders are not careful to make sure they get their insurance coverage right. Late last month, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a verdict that made one thing clear: those who don’t read their insurance-policy applications – and instead rely solely on verbal advice from their insurance agents — run the risk of having their claims denied and their insurance policies cancelled. Continue Reading