Order Code RS21075
Updated December 7, 2001
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Terrorism Insurance in the Post September 11
S. Roy Woodall, Jr.
Government and Finance Division
The insured losses from the terrorist attacks of September 11 are currently
estimated to total as much as $70 billion, the largest insured catastrophic loss in history.
Although the insurance industry has committed, and appears able, to pay losses resulting
from the attacks, it has also warned that it would not be able to absorb such major losses
from terrorism in the future. The problem lies with the reinsurance industry – through
which primary insurers can “lay off” or spread large risks. Reinsurers are saying that
due to their inability to quantify, underwrite, or price for the escalation of terrorism risks,
they will not accept them in future reinsurance contracts. Without this backup
reinsurance capacity, primary insurers maintain that they have no choice but to
specifically exclude terrorist coverage in all of their future commercial insurance policies.
There is a contention, however, over the terms of any federal assistance. The problem
is coming to a head quickly: reinsurance contracts on commercial risks are generally
written on a one year basis, and 70% of those currently in existence will expire on
January 1, 2002. The lack of terrorism coverage after that date could impede the ability
of financial services providers to finance commercial property acquisitions and new
As a result, Congress is considering a temporary government-industry risk sharing
program until the private marketplace can adapt to provide the needed coverage. There
are multiple approaches to the issue. One approach is to do nothing and wait to see how
the market adapts. This report discusses possible implications for markets and the
current insurance regulatory structure in the absence of any Congressional action, and
will be updated as events warrant.
Prior to September 11, most property and casualty insurance policies covered the risk
of losses resulting from acts of terrorism, not as a specific named risk, but within general
coverage provisions interpreted broadly enough to clearly cover the risk. Primary insurers
and their reinsurers had not foreseen any catastrophic terrorist events on the scale of those
on September 11, and generally had not charged a separate premium for the terrorist
coverage. As with so many other things, September 11 changed that practice. The
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insurance industry now faces losses that could reach $70 billion, making this the largest
ever loss in the global insurance and reinsurance industry.
Insurers initially reacted by promptly committing to pay the losses resulting from the
September 11 terrorist attacks. As to future terrorist attacks, however, the industry has
made it clear that it will not be able to provide coverage without major adjustments in the
terms of coverage and in underwriting standards for that coverage. Anticipating that the
private marketplace could make the necessary adjustments to re-establish terrorism
coverage with time, the industry has asked Congress to provide a temporary “backstop”
in the form of a short-term government-industry risk sharing program. Even as Congress
studies various legislative proposals to address the situation, terrorism coverage is being
sharply curtailed or removed from property and casualty policies, and premiums are being
dramatically increased for what is available.
The Reinsurance Problem
Primary or “retail” insurers spread the risks they assume in their policies by
purchasing reinsurance contracts from reinsurers.1 This allows the insurance industry as
a whole to take on greater risks than would otherwise be possible, and provide greater
protection for business and industry and the economies to which they contribute around
the world. The presence of insurance for most risks allows banks to lend on the security
of business property, and investors to invest on the basis of a company as a going concern,
without worrying about loss of collateral or business worth in a catastrophic event.
Past terrorism events have produced large but none the less financially manageable
catastrophic damages. The events of September 11, however, were closer in magnitude
to major invasive acts of war than bombing, vandalism, arson, or other damages normally
associated with terrorist attacks. War is generally not considered to be an “insurable risk,”
because of a singular lack of information about likelihood, cost, hazard avoidance, or other
parameters of the risk needed for pricing insurance.2 Recovery from war damage is, as a
result, often considered a governmental function because only governments are thought
able to take on the costs associated with defense against war, or rebuilding in its aftermath.
In the aftermath of September 11, the world’s major reinsurers have told primary
insurers that they cannot quantify, underwrite, or price terrorism risk at this juncture.
Further, they do not know whether Congress will create any backstop to cover the
immediate situation. As a result, they have said they will no longer reinsure losses from
terrorism in future reinsurance contracts with primary insurers. Some 70% of the current
annual reinsurance contracts expire on January 1, 2002; without the availability of
affordable terrorism reinsurance, primary insurers say they cannot shoulder the entire risk
and therefore must exclude terrorism coverage from all new policies. Thus, primary
insurers have begun sending notices to their policyholders informing them that they will
The reinsurance market is a global market with leading reinsurers based in the U.S. (Berkshire
Hathaway, CNA, GE), the UK (Lloyd’s), Switzerland (Swiss Re), Germany (Hannover Re,
Allianz, Munich Re), Italy (Generali), France (Axa), and Bermuda (ACE Ltd., Partner Re, and XL
For more on insurance exclusions see CRS Report RL31166, Insurance Exclusions Clauses and
Coverage of the Events of September 11, by Christopher A. Jennings.
not provide terrorism coverage in 2002. These communications have been either in the
form of a notice of nonrenewal of the entire property and casualty policy, or the addition
of a terrorism exclusion from present coverage. In either case the notices have triggered
an additional problem for the primary insurers under the state insurance regulatory system.
State Regulatory Problems
Under most state insurance laws, primary insurers must file the property and casualty
insurance policy forms they intend to use in a state with the state department of insurance.
Some states prohibit the use of such policy forms prior to their approval, and some also
require the prior approval of rates to be charged as well. Thus, the communications being
sent to policyholders, as well as the terrorism exclusionary provisions that will be included
in renewal policies, are now starting through the regulatory approval process of the states.
The Insurance Services Office Inc. (ISO), a private firm that makes filings with the states
on behalf of multiple insurers, recently announced that it has filed for terrorism exclusions
in 50 states on behalf of some 200 insurers. Another such firm, the American Association
of Insurance Services (AAIS), is also submitting to the states the paperwork for new
policy language on optional terrorism exclusions on behalf of some 600 insurers.
State insurance regulators now reviewing these filings are faced with a new version
of their usual regulatory conflict: a desire to ensure that consumers in their states remain
protected against losses from terrorism, and their duty not to exacerbate the problem by
forcing insurers to assume unmanageable risks and thereby increasing their risk of
insolvency. The District of Columbia’s insurance chief has announced that he has already
decided to allow the terrorism exclusions,3 but most states are still weighing how to
resolve their dilemma. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the
trade association of state insurance regulators, has confirmed the receipt of terrorism
exclusionary forms in the various states, but has not made any recommendation as to how
its members should resolve the dilemma. Instead, the NAIC, which usually guards the
state role in insurance regulation, has urged Congress to take quick federal action by
passing legislation to create some type of government-industry risk sharing program to
give an immediate and certain short term solution to the situation.
Rating agencies, which analyze the financial strength of insurers, have warned that
should Congress fail to enact some type of federal backstop by year-end, and should state
insurance regulators fail to allow terrorism exclusions on commercial insurance policies,
primary insurers will find themselves in an untenable situation. They will have to choose
between continuing to offer terrorism coverage without adequate reinsurance, or
withdrawing completely from the commercial property and casualty insurance
marketplace. Standard & Poor’s has indicated that either choice would result in rating
downgrades, and stated: “With each day that federal legislation is not passed, pressure
mounts on commercial insurers to withdraw from lines of business that unduly expose their
capital to these potentially large and unpredictable risks.”4 This “squeeze” could have
serious financial consequences, as emphasized by Fitch, which reported that “without
enduring solutions, the result could be the partial collapse of a well-functioning insurance
Jackie Spinner, “Insurers Ask to End Terrorism Coverage,” Washington Post, November 16,
2001, p. E2.
Report dated November 12, 2001, available at [http://www.standardandpoors.com].
system that would leave many individuals, businesses and insurance companies bearing
disproportionate risks, or being forced to curtail key business activities.”5 A downgrade
by ratings firms, of course, could also hamper the ability of insurance companies to raise
new capital, and hamper their ability to restore normal loss reserves.
Consumer representatives have also weighed into the debate with a position that
makes the decision by the state insurance regulators on whether to allow terrorism
exclusions even more difficult. The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) has written
to all of the state insurance regulators, urging them to disapprove the commercial property
and casualty terrorism exclusions filed by the ISO and others as well as the requests for
across-the-board premium increases. The CFA maintains that such exclusions and
premium increases in the marketplace will make for great disruption after January 1, 2002.
Instead, the CFA maintains that state regulators should review the regulatory actions taken
after Hurricane Andrew, the Northridge earthquake, and the riots of the 1960s (the FAIR
Plan model) that stabilized the insurance marketplace after those events.
Congressional and Legislative Activity
In this context, Congress is considering federal intervention to should insurance
coverage of terrorism not be available after January 1. The “Terrorism Risk Protection
Act” (H.R. 3210) was introduced November 1, 2001, and voted out of the House
Financial Services Committee by a voice vote on November 7. On the floor, the bill was
amended by substituting the text of H.R. 3357 in its entirety. H.R. 3210, as amended,
passed the House on November 29.6
The basic plan in H.R. 3210 provides for a one-year government commitment to
backstop private insurance against losses resulting from confirmed terrorist events. Such
federal assistance could be triggered when insured losses reached $100 million, after which
the government would lend the money to pay 90% of terrorism losses up to an aggregate
loss maximum of $100 billion. The loan would be repaid by a series of assessments and
surcharges levied upon policyholders. Three bills have been introduced in the Senate, S.
1743, S. 1744, and S. 1751. The Senate versions differ as to losses that would trigger
government assistance, the extent of assistance, and whether the assistance would be in
the form of loans or grants that would not have to be repaid.
In addition to the debate over whether government payments for losses would have
to be repaid and the trigger amounts for such payments, there is also disagreement on
Christopher Oster, “Reports on Insurers Covering Terrorism Stress Federal Role,” Wall Street
Journal, November 14, 2001, p. A24.
Support for a federal backstop is coming not only from insurers, but also from real estate and
construction interests, as well as from lending institutions. In New York some 17 real estate and
construction organizations recently wrote to congressional leaders saying that without such a
federal backstop the ability to finance, construct, buy, or sell properties in New York and across
the nation could be at risk. Bankers, whose risk profiles are closely monitored by banking
regulators and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, reportedly are reexamining their lending
practices and are waiting to see whether terrorism coverage will be available before agreeing to
finance new real estate projects and business ventures.
other issues such as whether insurers should be required to provide terrorism coverage,
whether insurers should be able to accumulate tax-free reserves for terrorism losses, and
whether legal reform (in particular, with respect to punitive damages against companies
deemed liable for failure to prevent attacks) should be addressed.
One potential result of the enactment of any federal backstop by Congress that has
not been part of the public debate is the effect such a program could have on the future of
insurance regulation. Even though the business of insurance is considered interstate
commerce, Congress expressly delegated its regulation to the states in 1945 with the
passage of the McCarran-Ferguson Act. When the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) was
enacted in 1999, it reaffirmed the McCarran-Ferguson delegation and designated state
regulators as the “functional regulators” of insurance in the total financial services
Over the years, there have been several attempts to get Congress to reassess its
delegation of regulatory authority of the insurance business to the states. The most recent
effort is that now being mounted by the trade groups of life insurers, property/casualty
insurers, and banks. These groups point to the provisions of GLBA that enable affiliations
between banks and insurers, and call for a system of federal chartering and regulation of
insurers on an optional basis, similar to the dual regulatory system that applies to
commercial banks, in order to make such affiliations easier and more practical. Insurers,
they maintain, should have the option to stay under state regulation or file for a federal
charter and be regulated by a federal agency. Should Congress enact a federal backstop
for terrorism insurance, the program could well require a degree of regulation on a
national basis and either call for specific federal regulation or greater uniformity in state
regulation. This, according to some analysts, could influence discussion on the issue of
state versus federal insurance regulation.
The Evolving Marketplace
As the congressional debate continues over whether to provide a temporary backstop
to allow the market to adjust to the new reality of terrorism risks, there are indications of
how, in the absence of such legislation, the marketplace will adjust to address the problem.
Insurers and reinsurers can be expected to seek to recoup their September 11 losses, as
well as to attempt to limit their future losses in any new business they write. As a result,
any terrorism coverage that can be obtained would be at a substantial increase in cost.
Insurance brokers report that since September 11 they have seen tenfold increases in
premiums being charged by those insurers still willing to write commercial property and
casualty coverages. This is especially true where the coverage is on so-called “terrorism
magnets” such as chemical plants, stadiums and office towers.
On the other hand, the high premiums that are now emerging, along with the increase
in demand for terrorism coverage, are already being seen as a new business opportunity
by some in the marketplace: at some price, the risks become potentially profitable, if they
are quantifiable. Standard and Poor’s predicts that some $20 billion of new capital will
flow into the global insurance market over the next six months, with the bulk going into
the reinsurance market. More than one-half of that new capital will be used to fund startup ventures. This reflects, in part, the continued reluctance among investors to invest
heavily in existing insurers until they can demonstrate their post September 11 financial
condition. Most of this new capital for start-ups has come from established insurers and
reinsurers, which are creating separate subsidiary units to handle the terrorism risk. That
way, in case of another large terrorist event, the parent companies would not fail, even if
their new subsidiaries were to become insolvent.
As of November 15, Bloomberg – the financial services consulting firm – had
identified some 25 insurers and reinsurers in the process of raising a total of about $20
billion through sales of stock, bonds and private equity to take advantage of surging post
September 11 insurance premiums. One example is that of the large insurance brokerage
firm of Marsh & McLennan (M&M): soon after September 11, M&M made plans to form
a new subsidiary with $1 billion in new money to sell insurance to corporate customers at
sharply higher rates. AXIS Specialty Ltd., based in Bermuda, opened for business on
November 20 with a total of $1.6 billion in capital. M&M also launched a new consulting
unit to capitalize on heightened corporate fears of terrorism. As of this date, however, the
overall outcome remains uncertain.