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Instant access: some state insurance departments are making public access to company financial information as easy as logging on.

In a slow-moving trend, a handful of state insurance departments are posting domestic insurance company financial statements on the Internet, for all to see.

This online access separates those states from most others, which depend on the central repository of insurer financial information available on the Web site of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

"It just makes sense," said Bill Ripple, spokesman for the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, which was the first state to post complete statements of in-state insurers on the Internet, in 2002. "In Washington State, we have a pretty robust public disclosure law in terms of public records. The culture here is to disclose it; if you can answer it, do."

In states without online access to local insurers, the public must use the NAIC site, which devotes three pages to public access: InsData, an online financial statement library; Insure U, which provides insurance tips and information for small business owners; and the Consumer Information Source (CIS), where the public can access instate insurer information including annual statements. Most states that do not post insurer financials themselves do provide links to one of the NAIC's Web pages.

Only four states currently offer public access to domestic insurers via state department of insurance Web sites: Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington; California is in the process of providing full online access.

The Washington State OIC provides information in a WinZip file. "You download it from our Web site," Ripple said. "They come up as a PDF, and you can print them out. A lot of times it's used by other companies rather than consumers."

As in most states, Washington has always offered public access to insurer financial statements, but in hard copy, not via the Internet.

"It was a very time-consuming process to physically gather and print out the reports. The person would then have to come into our office to view them," Ripple said of the former method. "So in 2002 we made a determination that we had the capacity and opportunity to post them on our Web site. They've always been available, just not on the Web site."

In addition to posting flail financial statements, the Washington State OIC also offers a direct link to the NAIC Web site. "We certainly believe that consumers benefit from having access to information from insurance companies, and we want to do what we can to meet that need," Ripple said.

"Good Public Service"

The Ohio Department of Insurance began posting financial statements online in 2002 "because we thought it was a good public service," said spokesman Jarrett Dunbar. "People who have used the service say they do appreciate having it online.... I know that we have received comments from reporters around the state and country saying that they find it a very useful tool as well."

2006, the financial statement page was accessed 20,999 times, he said.

Rhode Island has been providing annual statements online for about four years, due to a combination of consumer requests and efforts to streamline the process, the department stated. It's been well-received thus far.

Most of the 51 state insurance departments--including the District of Columbia--polled by Best's Review do offer public access to hard copies or in-house views of financial information on domestic insurers, in accordance with each state's individual public access law or the federal Freedom of Information Act. (Sec page 75.)

All 5,100-some insurance companies in the United States send annual filings--including key financials, actuarials and other information--to the NAIC, which puts them in a central repository. Filings submitted in PDF format are available via the InsData system.

Additionally, every state provides financial information for some of its lines to the NAIC; about 97% of the total premiums volume written in the United States is reported in the database, according to the NAIC.

Insurance companies also file information with rating agencies such as A.M. Best Co. Companies such as Best use those filings as part of the assignment of financial strength ratings to insurance companies. NAIC posts the data for the states as well as vendors who repackage the information, subject it to their own analytics, and sell it.

Certain divisions of some state insurance departments don't file their financial statements. The California health insurance industry, for example, is governed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is not required to file with the NAIC. Yet property/casualty insurers in California are required to file with the NAIC.

Most states take advantage of the InsData link to the NAIC, said Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger. She was secretary/treasurer of the NAIC, chairing the committee that launched InsData, when the program was under development; the InsData link came up in February 2006.

"It's there for consumers who are thinking about buying an insurance product and just want to check the solvency and stability of the company. It's there for researchers and people who want to take that information and massage it and put it into formats for their own use," Praeger said, noting that the database is considered comprehensive.

Information for a Price

Prior to the launch of InsData, limited financial data was available on the NAIC Web site via the CIS Web page.

"As you can imagine, that extension is expensive to maintain," Praeger said. And so the NAIC began to charge a user fee a couple years ago after conducting a study that found while consumers do access the information, the majority of users are from insurance companies, law firms, investment banks, consultants, the media, colleges, government agencies and other businesses.

There's no cost for up to five statements every 12 months. After that, the cost is $10 per annual filing and $3 per quarterly filing.

At least one former user of the NAIC's InsData portal would like to see more states posting their own domestic financials.

"A lot of this stuff, it's probably worth my paying for it," said Joe Belth, professor emeritus of insurance for the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University at Bloomington. As editor of The Insurance Forum, an independent monthly newsletter, Belth needs to access financial statements on a regular basis.

"I only want certain information, and for me to gather the information from individual company statements would be quite a chore, so it's worth it to me to have it assembled this way," he said. "But I find it very inconvenient from time to time when I want to look at one company's statement. I can't do it. I literally can't do it."

For a recent project, Belth called up the Indiana Department of Insurance and asked to see just a portion--Schedule "S"--of the annual reports of 10 companies. But he wasn't allowed to just look; he had to purchase.

"The thing is, we're talking at least 100 pages, and I don't need all of them. I just want to look at them. After I look at them, I may only need three pages," he said. "So I wound up paying for the full 100 pages, and they got it for me fairly quickly."

The NAIC partially designed InsData after Amazon.com, Praeger said. A user who downloads more than the initial five free statements is automatically linked to a shopping cart. "It's pretty much patterned after online shopping, so it's easy to use. And that way we protect the availability for legitimate consumer use," she said.

The NAIC frowns on commercial use of the information it sells and "technically" has banned such use, Praeger said. "But we know that it's happening. We look at some of the usage. We have lots of offshore hits, so we know what's probably happening. But the main thing is making it available for legitimate purposes."

There are discounts for governmental or academic use. "If it's a legitimate research project, that's discounted by 50%," Praeger said.

Still, costs for individual customers like Belth can add up quickly. "If you wanted to look at 50 companies, you're talking about a thousand bucks just to look at them," he said.

Using InsData allows the NAIC to distribute such information to the end user "much more quickly," and the InsData application has been "very well-received" and has reduced information requests to state insurance departments, the association stated.

What's Next?

According to the NAIC, some states are now expanding their online financial presence by offering insurance premium comparison rates.

The Delaware Department of Insurance, which does not post insurance company financial statements online, began posting comparison rates for instate insurers on its Web site in late May. The interactive site allows consumers to type in what kind of insurance they're seeking and their coverage limit, preferred deductible and resident ZIP code. The site then brings up an array of domestic insurers, along with their approximate yearly rates and their A.M. Best rating.

A recent search for homeowners insurance in Delaware asking $250,000 coverage with a $500 deductible brought up 47 quotes ranging from $416 to $2,411.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, which does not post insurer financials or offer a link to the NAIC, does post 2007 premium rate changes on its Web site for instate health, homeowners and personal auto insurers.

And the Washington State Legislature passed a law during its most recent session that would allow the state's OIC to launch an application--as early as this summer--that would enable consumers to compare health carriers in terms of cost, financial expense and medical loss ratios.

"They can compare them between companies. We're pretty excited about it," said Washington OIC spokesman Ripple. The department's original mandate was to launch the application by September, but it's working ahead of schedule. "That will show a lot of information for consumers: what surplus they have, profit margins, annual rate changes for health plans, administrative costs. They can make a better-informed decision."

Key Points

* A handful of state insurance departments are posting domestic insurance company financial statements on their Web sites for public access.

* Most states just post a link to InsData, the financial data source of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

* Some states are expanding their online financial presence by offering insurance premium comparison rates and other information.

--Editorial Assistant Rebecca Bernaski contributed to this article.

RELATED ARTICLE: Public information is not always accessible or affordable.

While only a handful of states currently post instate insurers' financial information online, most others at least provide a link to the Web site of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. And many of those also provide hard copies of financials on request, or allow the public to view documents in-house, in accordance with each state's individual public access law or the federal Freedom of Information Act.

For example, the Arizona Department of Insurance does not yet offer full financial statements online, but "We do provide partial information for the public from our Web site, and we do link to the NAIC Web site," spokeswoman Erin Klug said.

In the office of the Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner, "If someone makes a request, we'll get it to you," said spokesman Glenn Allen. That's in either PDF or hard copy.

The District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking posts financial information for all D.C.-based health entities, which represent about 40% of the region's domestic insurers, a spokesman said. That's due to prior consumer requests; the department upgrades the site with more information as it's requested.

The Maryland Insurance Administration posts final examination reports issued since Jan. 1, 2002. Prior reports must be requested in writing from the Public Information Act Coordinator, and photocopy fees may apply, a spokeswoman said. The site also offers a link to the NAIC's Insure U Web page.

The State of Kansas Department of Insurance makes its domestic insurers' annual financial statements available to the public in hard copy for a nominal fee, said Ken Abitz, the department's director of financial surveillance.

"We do charge companies for making copies," Abitz said. The fee is $1.25 per page and $7.50 an hour for man-hours. Consumers are not charged for copies, according to the state's open records policy.

"We do put a link to the NAIC Consumer Web site so they can look at general financial information," Abitz said. The department also has links to various rating agencies. Navigating the site is fairly easy, but accessing public information could be a little smoother, he said.

"We're improving upon that every day," Abitz said. "You don't want people to have to drill down too far, or they'll give up."
What's Online?

Many of the Web sites of state departments of insurance post some
type of financial information on domestic insurers.

STATE FINANCIAL
 STATEMENTS

Alabama partial
Alaska link only
Arizona partial; link
Arkansas partial; link
California partial; updating process
Colorado partial; link
Connecticut partial; link
Delaware link only
District of Columbia partial
Florida hard copies on request; link
Georgia full info on request
Hawaii none; link to Insure U
Idaho full info on request
Illinois link only
Indiana hard copies on request; link
Iowa none; link to Insure U
Kansas hard copies on request; link
Kentucky full info on request
Louisiana none; link to Insure U
Maine full info on request; link
Maryland none; link to Insure U
Massachusetts none; link to Insure U
Michigan partial; link
Minnesota full info onsite
Mississippi full info on request
Missouri hard copies on request; link
Montana hard copies; link
Nebraska full info on request; link
Nevada link only
New Hampshire link only
New Jersey partial
New Mexico link only
New York full info on request; link
North Carolina link only
North Dakota full info on request
Ohio full info onsite
Oklahoma partial; link
Oregon full info on request; link
Pennsylvania full info on request
Rhode Island full info onsite
South Carolina hard copies; link
South Dakota full info on request; link
Tennessee no info; no link
Texas full info on request; link
Utah hard copies
Vermont full info in office
Virginia partial online; full on request
Washington full info onsite
West Virginia full info on request; link
Wisconsin full info on request; link
Wyoming partial; link

STATE What insurer financial information does it
 offer online?

Alabama posts the most recent examination reports.
Alaska link to the NAIC Consumer Web page.
Arizona posts partial financial information on in-state
 insurers; link to the NAIC Insure U Web page.
Arkansas posts financial statements for health insurers;
 link to the NAIC Consumer Web page.
California posts some financial information on in-state
 insurers; developing public access to
 statements online.
Colorado posts partial financial statements for in-state
 insurers (no investment info); link to NAIC
 Web site.
Connecticut posts the top 20 insurers in each category
 listed by admitted assets; link to NAIC home
 page.
Delaware recently began posting exam reports and rate
 comparisons; link to NAIC home page.
District of Columbia posts info for D.C.-based health entities; hard
 copies on request; link to the NAIC home
 page.
Florida hard copies at a per-page copy charge; posts
 financial exam reports; link to NAIC home
 page.
Georgia annual statement info is available to the
 public on request; PDFs and/or hard copies
 available.
Hawaii link to the NAIC Insure U Web page.
Idaho hard copies only; link to the NAIC Consumer
 Web page.
Illinois link to the NAIC Consumer Web page.
Indiana hard copies only; link to the NAIC Insure U
 Web page.
Iowa link to the NAIC Insure U Web page.
Kansas offers hard copies for a nominal fee; link to
 the NAIC Consumer Web page.
Kentucky requires an open record request to view
 financial statements.
Louisiana link to the NAIC Insure U Web page.
Maine posts examination reports for domestic
 companies; link to the NAIC Consumer Web
 page.
Maryland posts final examination reports; link to the
 NAIC Insure U Web page.
Massachusetts link to the NAIC Insure U Web page.
Michigan posts financial statements for HMOs only; link
 to NAIC Consumer Web page.
Minnesota posts financial statement summaries for
 in-state insurers; link to the NAIC home
 page.
Mississippi hard copies only; revamping Web site to include
 a link to the NAIC Consumer Web page.
Missouri hard copies only; link to the NAIC Consumer Web
 page.
Montana hard copies available by written request; link
 to the NAIC Consumer Web page.
Nebraska public access to hard copies only; link to the
 NAIC Consumer Web page.
Nevada link to the NAIC home page.
New Hampshire link to the NAIC home page.
New Jersey hard copies only; posts market conduct
 examinations online (updated every three
 years).
New Mexico link to the NAIC home page.
New York hard copies and PDFs via request; consumers are
 redirected to rating agencies or the NAIC
 Web site.
North Carolina consumers can view financial statements in the
 department of insurance office.
North Dakota hard copies on request; requests are handled
 in one to two days.
Ohio posts full financial statements of all in-state
 insurers online since 2002.
Oklahoma posts partial info: assets & liabilities,
 capital & surplus, state premium & claims.
Oregon hard copies must be reviewed in-house; link to
 the NAIC Consumer Web page.
Pennsylvania hard copies available from the department's
 three locations.
Rhode Island posts full financial statements of in-state
 insurers; includes examination reports. No
 link to NAIC.
South Carolina hard copies of full financial statements are
 available on request; link to the NAIC
 Consumer Web page.
South Dakota hard copies available; statements for
 non-domiciled insurers can be retrieved via
 the NAIC Web page.
Tennessee no online access; no link to NAIC.
Texas hard copies of full financial statements are
 available on request; link to the NAIC
 Consumer Web page.
Utah hard copies available on request or to view
 in-house for domestic insurers only.
Vermont hard copies only; access to public portions.
Virginia posts partial annual financial info and
 examination reports.
Washington posts full financial statements of all in-state
 insurers.
West Virginia hard copies of financial statements available
 on request.
Wisconsin hard copies available at the office, or can be
 ordered; link to the NAIC Consumer Web page.
Wyoming posts examination reports for five health care
 insurers; link to NAIC home page.
COPYRIGHT 2007 A.M. Best Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Regulatory/Law: Online Financial Statements
Author:Cavanaugh, Bonnie Brewer
Publication:Best's Review
Date:Jul 1, 2007
Words:3022
Previous Article:Axa Distributors LLC.
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