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Friday, July 9, 2010

Surplus Lines Insurance: Background and Current Legislation

Baird Webel
Specialist in Financial Economics

In general, insurance is a highly regulated financial product. Every state requires licenses for insurance companies, and most states closely regulate both company conduct and the details of the particular insurance products sold in the state. This regulation is usually seen as important for consumer protection; however, it also creates barriers to entry in the insurance market and typically reduces to some degree the supply of insurance that is available to consumers. Rather than requiring consumers who may be unable to find insurance from a licensed insurer to simply go without insurance, states have allowed consumers to purchase insurance from non-licensed insurers, commonly called nonadmitted or surplus lines insurers. Although any sort of insurance could be sold by a surplus lines insurer, most such transactions tend to be for rarer and more exceptional property and casualty risks, such as art and antiques, hazardous materials, natural disasters, amusement parks, and environmental or pollution risks.

Although surplus lines insurance is sold by insurers who do not hold a regular state insurance license, it is not unregulated. The sale of this insurance is regulated and taxed by the states largely through requirements placed on the brokers who usually facilitate the insurance transactions. The varying state requirements for surplus lines insurance have led to calls for greater harmonization between the states' laws and for federal intervention to promote uniformity. Such federal intervention is the central focus of the Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 2571/S. 1363), which passed the House by voice vote on September 9, 2009. This act was also added as an amendment to the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 (H.R. 4173) when it was considered on the House floor. H.R. 4173 passed the House on December 11, 2009. The Restoring America's Financial Stability Act of 2010 (S. 3217) included nearly identical language as well. This legislation was reported by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on April 15, 2010, and subsequently brought to the Senate floor for consideration. On May 20, 2010, the Senate finished consideration, inserting the amended text of S. 3217 into H.R. 4173 and passing the amended H.R. 4173. The Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act language was included in the H.R. 4173 conference report, which passed the House on June 30, 2010, and has yet to be considered by the Senate.

Provisions aimed at harmonizing state laws regarding surplus lines insurance were also included in the National Insurance Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 1880), whose central focus is the creation of a federal charter for the insurance industry when this bill was introduced on April 2, 2009.

Past Congresses have also taken up legislation on surplus lines insurance. Versions of the Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act were passed by the House in both the 109th and 110th Congresses, but the Senate did not act on surplus lines legislation in either case. Provisions on surplus lines insurance similar to those in H.R. 1880 were included in the National Insurance Act of 2007, but that bill was not acted on in the 110th Congress.

Date of Report: July 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: RS22506
Price: $29.95

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