California PPA Rate Filing Moratorium: What Should Insurers Do?

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As loss ratios for personal auto continue to climb in California, insurers are experiencing significant pressure to raise their rates. Frequencies have been increasing from the lows hit during the pandemic and severities trends are at levels not seen for decades – both of which are pushing loss costs above levels seen pre-pandemic. At the same time, the California Department of Insurance (“CDI”) has a rate filing moratorium on any increases for personal auto and has not approved any personal auto rate increase for over two years.

Many companies feel their hands are tied and there is nothing that can be done until the moratorium is lifted by the CDI. However, according to our actuarial consulting experts, there are several options available to insurers when it comes to addressing a needed rate change for personal auto in California.

Submitting a rate filing during the rate freeze

There is no debate that the pandemic has had an impact on personal auto. Behind the scenes, the CDI has been evaluating the most recent data available from insurers to determine the impact of the pandemic and how this should be addressed in personal auto rate filings. At this moment, the CDI has given no indication as to when they will complete their review. As a result, most companies are not spending the effort required to prepare and submit a rate increase filing for personal auto in California, which the CDI will just put on hold.

Over the last several years, the average time to approval for a rate filing in California has been steadily increasing and the problem has been made worse by a staffing shortage at the CDI. Prior to COVID-19, it took an average of 150 days to receive approval on rate increase filings for personal auto and homeowners – both of which are heavily regulated lines of business in California. Now, it is taking over 300 days to receive approval on rate filings for homeowners. Part of the reason for the lengthy review is that every rate filing for homeowners needs to be reviewed by upper management including the insurance commissioner. It is not unreasonable to anticipate the same treatment for personal auto. Which means if you submit a rate filing today, it might take a year to receive the approval. Any company that has adopted the “wait and see” approach and is taking no actions on their personal auto program will likely have subpar results in the next year and may be playing catch up for multiple years.

Several of the top 20 carriers have recently filed for rate increases on their California personal auto programs including the following companies: GEICO, Interinsurance Exchange of the Auto Club, Mercury, Progressive, Infinity and Wawanesa. The filings for these companies show strong support for a rate increase. Does this mean the CDI will start approving rate increases for personal auto soon?  Nobody really knows the timing on this – the insurance commissioner will likely err on the side of keeping the rates low for consumers. However, eventually the freeze on rate increases will be lifted and the companies that have already filed will be first in line to receive approvals on rate increases. If an insurer anticipates needing a rate increase for personal auto within the next year in California and has not started the rate filing process, it is time to get moving on this.

Filing for a variance

Most insurers have not submitted a rate increase filing because they do not have sufficient data to support an increase using the CDI ratemaking methodology. For companies that do not have credible data in the last 12-months, the CDI requires multiple years of data, which includes the period impacted by the pandemic. Furthermore, the premium and loss trend calculations required by the CDI require at least 12-quarters of data and will also be impacted by the pandemic. As a result, a rate filing for personal auto may need a variance on the loss and premium trend. Filings for variances must make public notice, so it is important to include this in the initial filing or there could be delays in the approval of the filing.

When preparing a rate filing, our actuarial consulting experts recommend that insurers review recent competitor rate filings, which have valuable information, including their request for variances. Several of the large carriers have submitted filings with fully credible data for the last 12 months. For companies that do not have credible data, the trend data in the competitor filings may be helpful – especially given the lag in receiving available industry data. Additionally, the CDI has a COVID-19 questionnaire that is required with every rate filing for the lines of business impacted by the pandemic. The responses to the questionnaire include insight from the filing company on the impact of COVID-19 on their business, which companies may find helpful in preparing their own rate filings. Also, a review of the objections in these filings along with the corresponding responses may assist a company in preparing a filing that more thoroughly addresses all the CDI’s concerns, which will in the end speed up the filing review process.

Waiving or not waiving the deemer

Nowadays, the CDI requests a waiver of the 60-day deemer on virtually all rate filings in order to have more time to review the filing. Insurers have accepted this as part of the rate filing review process and have historically waived the deemer. Companies do have a choice when it comes to waiving the deemer.  Most companies believe the filing will be disapproved without the waiver of the deemer, which is not true. If a company decides to not waive the deemer, the CDI’s only option is to issue a notice of hearing or let the filing be deemed approved. Since there is no chance that the CDI will let a rate filing be deemed approved, not waiving the deemer will result in a notice of hearing.

When the deemer has been waived on a filing, the insurer has the option to reactivate the demeer. Wawanesa has chosen to do this with their pending personal auto rate filing, which was submitted December 13, 2021. Since the CDI has a moratorium on rate increases for personal auto and was unable to complete their review of the rate filing before the deemer date, the CDI issued a notice of hearing for the Wawanesa filing on May 3, 2022 stating the following: “the Commissioner is currently still conducting his review of the Application and has not yet sufficient time to determine whether additional information is required or to determine whether the requested rate change is excessive, inadequate, and/or unfairly discriminatory.”  The CDI and Wawanesa have subsequently held scheduling conferences and an order has been drafted with the date for the evidentiary hearing.

Many insurers and our actuarial consulting team will be actively following the Wawanesa filing to see how it plays out. The hearing may force the CDI to review the filing and the supporting data within a certain timeframe and determine whether any rate increase is actuarially justified by the company.  Other insurers have chosen to waive the deemer on their rate filings and have continued discussions with the CDI with the hopes that the CDI will change its position at some point. Normally, the CDI and insurers want to avoid a hearing and work together to find a solution, which ultimately may have an insurer agreeing to a rate change lower than the filed amount. Depending on the outcome of the Wawanesa hearing, there may be more companies choosing the Wawanesa route and opting for a hearing with the CDI. That said, the CDI may also change its position at some point and start allowing rate increases for personal auto.

Class plan filings are an option

Although the CDI is not currently approving rate filings for personal auto, insurers are able to file and receive approval of revenue-neutral class plan changes. In a time where the rate level on an overall basis may be below target, insurers should be carefully reviewing their class plan and ensuring the rate adequacy is the same across all class risks. Otherwise, companies may see shifts in the mix business into classes that are less adequately priced resulting in a further deterioration of the overall loss ratio on the program. Additionally, insurers can update their auto physical damage model years and add the latest model year through a class plan filing. When submitting the model year filing, our actuarial consulting experts advise insurers to also include the annual symbol filing in the class plan filing.

Use an expert with years of California experience

Having an expert with years of experience preparing personal auto rate filings in California could improve the time to approval and potentially save a company a substantial amount of money.  Whether it is preparing the actual rate filing or performing a review of a rate filing prepared by the company, an expert can provide guidance that will increase the chance of having the most successful filing.

Perr&Knight is a leading provider of actuarial and state filing services to insurers in California. Our actuarial consulting team actively follows the California market and is very familiar with all the filing requirements in the state. We prepare and submit more California filings than any other company. Our actuarial consulting experience includes expert testimony on rating filings and providing guidance to industry associations.

Please contact us for any insurance filings support that is needed with your California insurance products.