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The Moral Hazard of Insuring the Insurers

  • James G. Bohn
  • Brian J. Hall
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    State guaranty funds are quasi-governmental agencies that provide insurance to policyholders against the risk of insurance company failure. But insurance provided by guaranty funds, like all insurance, creates moral hazard problems, especially for companies that are insolvent or near-insolvent. The key insight of this paper is that because of the time lag between premium payments and losses (which is especially lengthy in long-tail lines), writing policies is one way for insurance companies to borrow money (i.e., from policyholders). Moreover, the existence of guaranty fund insurance enables insurance companies, even very risky ones, to borrow from policyholders at rates that do not reflect the insurer's default risk. Thus, one way for insurance companies to game the guaranty fund system is to engage in excessive premium writing. Consistent with this idea, we find that insolvent P&C insurance companies tended to have very high premium growth before they failed. More than one-third of the failed insurance companies had premium growth of more than 50 percent in the two years before failure. Moreover, this excessive premium growth was more pronounced in long-tail lines than in short-tail lines. We also find evidence that greater regulatory resources are associated with less gaming of the system.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w5911.pdf
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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5911.

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    Date of creation: Jan 1997
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    Publication status: published as Bohn, James G. and Brian J. Hall. "The Costs of Insurance Company Failures" . The Economics of Property-Casualty Insurance. Edited by David F. Bradford, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 139-166.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5911
    Note: PE
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    1. Cummins, J David, 1988. " Risk-Based Premiums for Insurance Guaranty Funds," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 43(4), pages 823-39, September.
    2. Merton, Robert C., 1977. "An analytic derivation of the cost of deposit insurance and loan guarantees An application of modern option pricing theory," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 3-11, June.
    3. Brian J. Hall, 1996. "Regulatory Free Cash Flow and the High Cost of Insurance Company Failure," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1782, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    4. James, Christopher, 1991. " The Losses Realized in Bank Failures," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 46(4), pages 1223-42, September.
    5. Stiglitz, Joseph E & Weiss, Andrew, 1981. "Credit Rationing in Markets with Imperfect Information," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 393-410, June.
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