We spend a lot of time talking about the various pension ponzi schemes that will inevitably wreak havoc on the global financial system at some point in the not so distant future. That said, you should also be keeping an eye on so-called long-term-care (LTC) health insurance providers who, as Penn Treaty Network of America Insurance teaches us this morning, have been perpetuating a ponzi scheme of their own.
After eight full years of legal battles between state regulators, investors, and policyholders, Pennsylvania Court Judge Hannah Leavitt signed off on a plan Wednesday to liquidate Penn Treaty Network America Insurance and its affiliate, American Network Insurance, the largest such health insurance liquidation in history. The decision leaves solvent insurers, their owners, and customers to pick up the cost for more than 70% of the up to $4.6 billion in projected long-term-care claims expected for 76,000 aging Penn Treaty customers nationwide.
Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioners Teresa Miller said that after a grueling eight-year legal battle the companies' financial difficulties were deemed "too great to be remedied." Per the PA Insurance Department:
Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller today announced the Commonwealth Court approval of petitions to liquidate Penn Treaty Network America Insurance Company and American Network Insurance Company, with policyholder claims to be paid through the state guaranty association system, subject to statutory limits and conditions.
"After a long and difficult eight-year legal process, the Court's decision to approve the liquidation recognizes the companies' financial difficulties are too great to be remedied, and that consumers are best protected through the state guaranty association system," Commissioner Miller said.
Just like their pension ponzi brethren, long-term-care health insurance providers take in premiums today and make a series of actuarial assumptions that justify a promise that they'll be able to satisfy a steady stream of payments at some point in the distant future. Unfortunately, like with pensions, the math all works out beautifully when the insurance companies model 7.5% annual returns on assets, but, in the real world where global bond yields are hovering just above 0%, the math is slightly less rosy.
Over the past several years, long term care insurance has posed significant challenges to insurers on a national level. The pricing of these policies for many insurance companies has proved to be insufficient as a result of claims greatly exceeding expectations and low investment returns. Claims have exceeded expectations due to incorrect assumptions concerning the number of policyholders who would drop their coverage and the number of policyholders who would utilize their policy benefits, as well as the cost of providing those benefits. The pricing deficiencies and resulting financial losses have resulted in many long term care insurers seeking large premium rate increases and some leaving the market.
In the case of Penn Treaty and American Network, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department determined that the magnitude of additional premium rate increases needed to remedy the companies' financial difficulties (exceeding 300% on average) would severely harm policyholders and would not be permitted by state regulators, leaving no alternative other than to place the companies into liquidation.
And while payments from other insurance companies will cover these abandoned Penn Treaty policyholders, only so many insurers can fail before taxpayers will be called upon to bail them out.
"Policyholder claims will continue to be covered by the state guaranty association system pursuant to law, and policy claims will be paid subject to the applicable state guaranty association coverage limit and conditions. Policyholders should continue to file claims as they have been in the past, and must continue to pay their premiums in order to be eligible for guaranty association coverage," Commissioner Miller said. "State guaranty associations were created to protect state residents who are policyholders of an insolvent company that has gone out of business. In each state, other insurance companies licensed in that state pay into a guaranty fund, and that money is used to cover claims when a company becomes insolvent and is liquidated."
But don't worry, there's only about $2 trillion worth of LTC claims that will need to be covered at some point in the future...should be fine.