The insurance tribunal that government established after Hurricane Irma was a good idea, and its members are now making sound recommendations that we hope policymakers will take to heart.
In the months following the storm, “insurance” became a dirty word in the territory, with many property and business owners complaining bitterly about their struggles to obtain what they considered a fair payout. Insurers, meanwhile, argued that they were getting a bad rap simply for doing their job.
The independent tribunal was conceived in large part to mediate such disputes. By the end of December — the most recent statistics provided — the body had processed 41 out of 55 complaints, most of which it claims to have resolved satisfactorily.
This month members explained during a press conference that many of the disputes they reviewed arose largely because property owners did not understand their policies.
This is hardly surprising: The fine print in an insurance contract can be notoriously difficult for a layperson to grasp, and agents with something to gain from a sale might not always have sufficient motivation to explain it properly. Moreover, the insurance industry is not regulated as tightly here as it is in many other countries.
Because of their findings, tribunal members called for more public education and suggested bolstering legislation, in part by compelling insurers to clearly explain the details of their policies to customers.
These ideas are sound, and Irma certainly showed that quick action is urgently needed.
We hope, then, that the next government will put a priority on reviewing the territory’s insurance legislation and regulatory regime from the ground up with an eye toward comprehensive reform.
Regulators should also continue to take a close look at the insurance companies — particularly the ones that received the most complaints — and take any needed action they have not already carried out.
Though the tribunal continues to process complaints, members said the body was meant to be temporary. This may be understandable given that disputes surely spiked dramatically after Irma, but we hope that some permanent mechanism for dispute resolution will be remain in place after it disbands.
For now, the tribunal deserves kudos for taking on what must be a very difficult job. We hope that its efforts will result in substantive reform.