Monday, April 16, 2018

No. 262: Georgia Moves Toward Enactment of a Law in Violation of the Constitutional Rights of Insurance Policyholders

In No. 220 (posted June 1, 2017) I discussed the enactment of a Connecticut law allowing a Connecticut-domiciled insurance company to divide itself into two or more insurance companies. I explained why I think the law violates the constitutional rights of insurance policyholders. Recently the Georgia legislature approved similar legislation that will become effective July 1, 2018 even if the governor does not sign it. Here I discuss the new Georgia legislation. As background, I urge readers to review No. 220 here.

The Baldo Article
On March 30, 2018, an article by Anthony Baldo appeared in The Insurance Insider. A reader brought the article to my attention. The lead sentence of the article reads:
Georgia legislation that lets insurers divide and opens a path for run-off transactions involving legacy books of business will become law by 1 July, even if Governor Nathan Deal fails to sign the measure.
The Creditor-Debtor Relationship
An insurance contract creates a creditor-debtor relationship between the policyholder (the creditor) and the insurance company (the debtor). A debtor cannot be relieved of his, her, or its obligations to a creditor without the consent of the creditor. Therefore, an insurance company cannot be relieved of its obligations to a policyholder without the consent of the policyholder. If the policyholder consents, the transaction would be a "novation," in which a different insurance company is substituted for the original insurance company.

The two major types of consent to a novation are affirmative (positive) consent and implied (negative) consent. Affirmative consent occurs when the creditor signs a form granting permission to complete the novation. Implied consent occurs when the creditor does nothing and is deemed to have consented to the novation. I strongly favor the use of affirmative consent.

My Writings on the Subject
My first two of many articles about what I call "insurance policy transfers" were in the October 1989 and December 1989 issues of The Insurance Forum. Three extraordinary cases, all of which came to my attention around the same time, prompted the two articles. I addressed the constitutionality question later, in the August 1992 issue of the Forum. Also, chapter 23 of my 2015 book entitled The Insurance Forum: A Memoir addresses insurance policy transfers.

The Georgia Division Law
Two lead sponsors of Georgia House Bill 754 (HB 754) were Representative Jason Shaw (R-Lakeland) and Senator P. K. Martin IV (R-Lawrenceville). Representative Shaw is a member of the House insurance committee and owns an insurance agency. Senator Martin is a member of the Senate insurance and labor committee and is an insurance agent. The Baldo article quotes both of them:
It quotes Representative Shaw as saying: "It just makes sense." He explained that, if a company has a plan of division, they can sell off an unwanted book "and not disrupt the whole operation."
It quotes Senator Martin as saying: "This bill would allow insurers more decision-making power when it comes to the split of a company, if they so choose, while protecting consumers through the approving authority of the insurance commissioner."
I wrote to Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph T. Hudgens. I sent him No. 220 about the Connecticut division law, said I was planning to post an item about HB 754, and asked for a statement to be included in the item. I have not yet received a statement from him. However, an insurance department spokesman said he was working on it. Meanwhile, the spokesman said this preliminarily:
What I can tell you now is that it was not an Insurance Department bill, and we did not oppose it. Also, the bill has not been signed by the Governor.
General Observations
As mentioned earlier, HB 754 will become law on July 1 if the governor does not sign it. Also, I hope the statement from Commissioner Hudgens will explain why the department did not oppose the bill. When this item is posted, I will send it to him and request that he urge the governor to veto the bill.

HB 754 allows a Georgia-domiciled insurance company to transfer its policyholder obligations to another company without obtaining the consent of the policyholders. Thus the bill allows the company to violate the constitutional rights of its policyholders. Further, there is no doubt that prime targets of such laws are legacy blocks of long-term care insurance policies, which have become major headaches for many companies.

With regard to the matter of commissioner approval, the language in HB 754 is important. The bill says:
The Commissioner shall approve a plan of division unless the Commissioner finds that the interest of any policyholder or shareholder will not be adequately protected, or the proposed division constitutes a fraudulent transfer under Article 4 of Chapter 2 of Title 18.  [Blogger's note: Several sections and subsections of Article 4 are interesting.]
Thus the insurance commissioner rather than the insurance company being divided has the burden of proving that the policyholders are adequately protected and that the transfer is not fraudulent. If the commissioner cannot meet the burden of proof, he must approve the plan. I think attorneys in the insurance industry drafted HB 754.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 24-page PDF consisting of HB 754 (10 pages) and articles in the October 1989, December 1989, and August 1992 issues of the Forum (14 pages). Email and ask for the April 2018 package about the Georgia division law.