Insurance is going to be huge next session

Numerous umbrellas connected and intertwined.
Numerous umbrellas connected and intertwined.

Insurance is going to be huge next session

You haven’t heard the last of single-payer and the Scaffold Law.
August 12, 2019

Insurance isn’t the sexiest issue in Albany, but it’s vitally important.

The industry is facing major changes following the passage of legislation like the Child Victims Act, which makes it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to sue their attackers, and the Green Light bill, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. However, the session ended with many insurance issues unresolved, from the Scaffold Law to single-payer health care. Here are some of the biggest insurance matters that lawmakers will contend with next year.

Health insurance

The state Legislature declined to take up the measure that would have had the greatest impact on the insurance industry: the New York Health Act. The bill, which did not come to a vote in either chamber this year, would establish a single-payer health care system in New York and ban all private insurers from doing business in the state. The prospect of the government effectively forcing everyone onto the same plan has become a sticking point both nationally and in New York. “When you say, ‘Do you think it would be good to have one system for everybody?’ People say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea,’” said Leslie Moran, senior vice president at the New York Health Plan Association. “But what if that means giving up your insurance plan and your insurance coverage?” Killing the New York Health Act is a high priority for her group.

In the meantime, Assembly Insurance Committee Chairman Kevin Cahill said that he plans to hold hearings on municipal cooperative health insurance, which would allow different municipalities to work with each other to provide health insurance to their employees, and hopes to pass legislation in both houses to eliminate the copay for prescriptions used to combat opioid addiction.

Scaffold Law

State Senate Insurance Committee Chairman Neil Breslin said he was surprised that the state’s Scaffold Law did not appear in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget this year. The law, which dates back to the end of the 19th century, holds employers and property owners fully liable when a worker lacking proper safety equipment falls from a building. New York is the only state that imposes an absolute liability penalty. Business groups and contractors have long called to reform or repeal the law, which was passed before modern workers’ compensation laws were enacted, because they say it drives up the cost of construction. However, trade unions and other supporters say it is a critical safety measure. “I’m a very strong union person, (and) unions are generally very supportive of ... protecting their workers,” Breslin said. “So I think we’ve come to the stage where there’s lots of laws written since 1885, when that became part of our law here in New York state, that protect workers in other ways.” Breslin said reforming the law has a wide range of supporters and he expects the issue to come up as part of next year’s budget negotiations, which could maximize positive participation and minimize the politicization of the issue.

Title insurance

Title insurance is lesser known compared to health, life and property insurance, but it plays an important role when someone purchases a home. It protects the property owner from any damages that may occur as a result of a mistake in the title for that property. A judge recently struck down title insurance industry regulations imposed by the state Department of Financial Services meant to prevent companies from passing certain business expenses on to consumers. It’s the second such decision that comes as part of an ongoing lawsuit. Cahill said that suit resulted in legislation to provide the department with the necessary tools to regulate the industry, which passed in the Assembly but stalled in the state Senate.

The New York State Land Title Association sued the state to stop the regulations. The association’s Executive Vice President and Executive Director Bob Treuber said next year his group will focus on working with the state Legislature on drafting and passing legislation that will both protect consumers’ rights and help small businesses. “We’re always interested in, not only with the Department of Financial Services but also with the Department of Taxation, to have a clear understanding of our responsibilities,” Treuber said.

Climate change

The rising threat of climate change will have an impact on the insurance industry, likely in ways that are not even fully understood today. It’s an issue that many in the industry have already been considering, and something that experts now consider to be a top risk. “We have to pay close attention to whether the tools that we have to address the risk of extreme weather for real people are current given the increasing risk of climate change expressed in extreme weather,” state Department of Financial Services Superintendent Linda Lacewell said. “Most people don’t have flood insurance. … They think that the federal government is going to help them if they get flooded, but if they’re not in the flood map, they’re likely not going to get any help.”

Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at City & State.
Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.