March 27 (Reuters) - U.S. commercial insurers face mounting political pressure to cover claims from businesses that are losing revenue because of coronavirus shutdowns ordered by state and local governments.
Insurers have begun rejecting claims from restaurants and other businesses affected by the coronavirus crisis as more lawmakers consider forcing them to pay out for the losses.
Such a move cannot come too soon for California innkeeper Nick Kite, who says he issued more than $30,000 in credits and refunds to customers after California ordered shutdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were absolutely relying on our business insurance to cover us,” Kite told Reuters.
Many insurance policies for revenue lost due to “business interruption” exclude pandemics and require physical damage on the premises.
This week Ohio and Massachusetts lawmakers introduced bills similar to one in New Jersey which would require insurers to pay the claims, mainly to small businesses, despite exclusions.
Insurers could then seek reimbursement from states, which would recoup the funds by assessing industry fees.
Although other U.S. lawmakers are also mulling the idea, they face resistance from lobbyists, an industry source said.
California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara on Thursday ordered insurers to send data for a state review of business interruption policies, which would inform policymakers.
The trend is an emerging risk for insurers, Piper Sandler analyst Paul Newsome said, adding: “It’s desired by lawmakers to eliminate exclusions and create coverage where it isn’t.”
“And that’s a political risk,” he said.
Losses for businesses with 100 or fewer employees could cost between $220 billion and $383 billion per month, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association estimated.
U.S. home, auto and business insurers have an $800 billion surplus to pay all future losses.
Kite, who pays $11,000 a year for a policy that includes business interruption coverage for two inns that cater to Napa Valley winery tourists, said he was not offered the option of buying cover that covered pandemics or the impact of viruses.
Philadelphia Insurance Companies, a unit of Tokio Marine Group, denied Kite’s claim on Tuesday, saying there was no property damage and that his insurance policy excludes viruses, a letter seen by Reuters showed.
Philadelphia Insurance did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, a state securities regulators group, said on Wednesday it would oppose proposals to require that insurers retroactively pay the losses, citing “substantial solvency risks” for insurers. (Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania; Editing by Alexander Smith)
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