Targeted Reforms Could Shrink the Reinsurance Facility and Save Most Drivers Money
February 1, 2024
Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee gained a clearer understanding of the North Carolina Reinsurance Facility Tuesday, January 30.
Executive Director Joanna Biliouris explained that the Facility exists because drivers are required to purchase liability insurance, insurers cannot set rates entirely based on the risk of a specific policy, and the rates that are allowed are too low for companies to provide that insurance to everyone. In short, the Facility does what it was created by statute to do. but that the Facility can’t quantify its own value. Legislators also learned that the Facility operates as it does due to how the insurance commissioner sets auto liability rates.
The cost of the Facility in the year ending June 30,2023, was $360 million in surcharges on every auto liability policy written in North Carolina, but the value is harder to quantify. Biliouris said, “The Facility cannot be credited with North Carolina having such low liability rates, but North Carolina’s low liability rates can be attributed to the Facility being a part of the state’s regulatory and statutory landscape.”
Ads tout that customers can purchase insurance priced to their driving habits. However, in North Carolina that is not the case: all drivers pay 9.8% higher premiums through a surcharge to cover riskier drivers in the Reinsurance Facility. Biliouris told the committee that the Facility covers 28% of premiums and 20% of policies. Even policies in the Facility pay the surcharge, which means many of them could be cheaper if an increase in premiums led to a larger reduction in the surcharge.
Fully 78% of vehicles in the Reinsurance Facility are “clean risks,” meaning the associated drivers have no points on their driving record but have other factors, such as speeding tickets, accidents, or inexperience behind the wheel that make them more likely have a claim.
Legislators focused on ways to improve the broader market and reduce the need for the Reinsurance Facility.
“I’m hoping we can do some things to accelerate this transition and get it moving faster.”
Rep. Jake Johnson
Representative George Cleveland (R-Onslow) asked, “Can the Facility do its function as provided by law if clean risks were not allowed?”
“If there was more flexibility in the rates that companies could charge [in the voluntary market], they would likely not send that risk to the Facility.” Biliouris acknowledged. “If the Facility was able to determine the rates for any risk that came in,” it could. Such changes could result in lower premiums and surcharges for most drivers.
“I see a recurring problem, and that is that I believe insurance rates are insufficient,” Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash) said. “Is it a bigger problem that inadequate rates have been approved?”
“The drivers that are ceded to the Facility are primarily ceded because it was too much risk for the company to take on for not enough price,” Biliouris said.
Biliouris agreed with co-chair Harry Warren (R-Rowan), “If rates were raised…there would be a reduction in the number of policies ceded.”
Co-chair Rep. Jake Johnson (R-Polk) concluded that he saw a need for reform: “I’m hoping we can do some things to accelerate this transition and get it moving faster.”
House Oversight Seeks Answers Department of Insurance Couldn’t Give
January 29, 2024
Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee will continue their attempt to get concrete answers from the Department of Insurance on the effectiveness of the North Carolina Reinsurance Facility (NCRF) in a hearing Tuesday, January 30, 2024, at 9 a.m.
In December 2023, the committee questioned Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey about auto insurance rates and the costs versus benefits of the Facility. Causey was unable to provide tangible justification, so, the committee has invited NCRF executive director Joanna Bilouris to address those unanswered questions.
The most prevailing question is: How does the NCRF contribute to the low rates that North Carolina drivers pay?
North Carolina has among the lowest rates in the nation, but it also operates a reinsurance facility, one of only two states to operate its residual market in this way. Twenty-five percent of drivers are in the Facility. Legislators aim to determine what part the Facility plays in those low rates amidst other factors such as liability law and fewer uninsured drivers.
“We expected more from Commissioner Causey in our last hearing but were left unsatisfied,” co-chair Rep. Jake Johnson said. “We anticipate Director Bilouris’s answers to what we’ve asked all along: ‘do our citizens pay more than they should for auto insurance?’ It’s our duty as a committee to investigate the necessity of a government program that may not be financially or practically beneficial to our state.”
“It’s really quite simple: show us evidence that having the Facility does what you say it does—is the Facility the reason North Carolina has low auto insurance rates,” co-chair Harry Warren said. “We can’t just take their word for it. Provide the numbers. We are not the lowest in the country, and those that are, don’t have a facility.”
Do North Carolinians Pay Too Much for Car Insurance? House Oversight Committee to Examine Auto Insurance Market
December 5, 2023
Do North Carolina drivers pay more than they should for car insurance? Would a change in regulations lead to higher or lower rates?
These are among the questions the House Oversight and Reform Committee will seek to answer December 11, 2023, at 1 p.m. in the Legislative Building Auditorium.
The committee will hear testimony from Dr. Jonathan Murphy, assistant professor of economics at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and North Carolina Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee commissioned Murphy, a former Western Carolina University professor, to conduct a study of North Carolina’s auto insurance regulations and residual market.
The state’s residual market—the North Carolina Reinsurance Facility (NCRF)—is a group of insurers required to cover high-risk drivers. Currently a quarter of drivers fall into this category, higher than any other state.
Murphy will testify about North Carolina’s market and the benefits of moving the state to an assigned-risk system where drivers are assessed, and premiums are calculated based on risk. Using similar reforms in South Carolina as an example, he predicts that if North Carolina implemented the move, premiums would fall for drivers at all risk levels over time.
Causey will address his disagreements with Murphy’s report, the specifics of North Carolina’s insurance market, differences in insurance premiums across states, and other regulatory needs of the Department of Insurance.
“Auto insurance is an expense for anyone who drives,” said co-chair Rep. Harry Warren. “If North Carolinians are paying more than they should because of the system we have, it is our responsibility to understand why and to examine alternatives.”
“Price distortions distort behavior,” said co-chair Rep. Jake Johnson. “If a voluntary auto insurance market would create competitive premiums and promote safe driving, we owe it to our citizens to investigate such financial implications.”
Unemployment Benefit Timeliness and Accuracy Still Have Room to Improve
November 7, 2023
Division of Employment Security (DES) Assistant Secretary Antwon Keith touted his agency’s efforts in correcting improper unemployment insurance payments and the timeliness of first-time payments in his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee Wednesday. In response, State Auditor Beth Wood questioned that the recommendations from two audits by her office were being implemented.
Keith and Wood appeared before the committee to address those long-time problems and how the agency has worked to fix them.
“The thousands of North Carolinians laid off during the pandemic shutdown overwhelmed the system and brought new urgency to fixing those chronic flaws,” committee co-chair Rep. Jake Johnson (R-Polk) said. “Now that unemployment rates are again near three percent, it is a good time to improve the system.”
In the past, DES has complained that the federal improper payment rate relies on a small sample. “It needs to be re-evaluated,” Keith said but did not offer an alternative. Using the current methodology, however, North Carolina’s 16.67% improper payment rate is better than other southeastern states, Keith emphasized.
Reps. Allen Chesser (R-Nash) and Maria Cervania (D-Wake) pressed him on getting better estimates and better performance, regardless of the measure. Wood reinforced their point. “It’s not good enough for North Carolina,” she said. “We should be pushing to be better.”
Wood’s audit on improper payments found that DES had failed to prepare for the inevitable economic downturn or to implement recommendations from the U.S. Department of Labor. “The biggest issue we need to talk about was the lack of preparedness for what happened,” Wood said. “We don’t know when a disaster is going to happen, so I would have expected DES to be more ready than they were.”
Keith noted that 54,000 people filed for unemployment in one day in April 2020 due to Covid shutdowns. The agency also had to implement multiple new programs with little federal guidance and few guardrails. The federal Government Accountability Office reported in September that the laxest of these programs, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, had up to $135 billion in outright fraudulent payments.
Another Auditor’s report on first-time payments found DES was slow with $438 million in benefit payments during the pandemic. Committee members and Wood herself emphasized that this was not simply a result of demand. Federal requirements state that 87 percent of these payments must be paid within 14-21 days. North Carolina has not met this standard since 2010.
Stressing that North Carolina should do better, Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) noted that the federal requirement is lacking. He asked, what if our payroll, bank account, or doctor’s diagnosis were only 87 percent accurate. “What about when you get in your car or truck, knowing that there’s an 87 percent chance it’s going to start and take you to where you need to go?” Torbett asked. “What about our schools? What if kids in our schools, we knew there was an only 87 percent right our kids would be educated?”
Wood faulted the heavy reliance on manual interventions that can take between 40 and 110 days to complete, far beyond the 21-day federal guideline. She tested the system herself and found a need for improvement in getting help. A claimant seeking help for to correct a mistake, such as a mistyped social security number, encountered a maze of options to select and information to give, only to end in a message that told callers the system was busy and to try again later.
Members were interested in what it takes to merit a performance audit from the State Auditor. Wood responded, “We look at where there is a lot of money spend or impact [on the greatest number of North Carolina citizens].” She also commented on the importance of follow-up on her recommendation through legislative oversight committees. She noted that HB471 would put more onus on agencies to show they had taken steps to implement recommendations.
Members and Wood discussed the vulnerability of local governments and the options available to improve their financial oversight. Wood mentioned efforts by the recommended that these smaller towns and rural counties hire outside help, such as a CPA firm. Local government associations can provide assistance, she said.
In a surprise announcement closing the hearing, Auditor Wood said she would not seek reelection, but “that leaves us 14 months to kick some butt.”
House Oversight Committee to Examine Unemployment Insurance Payments
October 30, 2023
Raleigh, NC — The House Oversight and Reform Committee has invited Division of Employment Security (DES) Assistant Secretary Antwon Keith and State Auditor Beth Wood to appear before the committee Wednesday, November 1, 2023, at 1 p.m. in the Legislative Building Auditorium.
The committee is following up on recommendations from the State Auditor and the U.S. Department of Labor to improve the accuracy and timeliness of unemployment payments. Committee members expect to learn about the progress DES has made and other steps the agency is taking to provide more timely and accurate payments.
“The pandemic highlighted flaws in the ability to make timely first-time payments and to ensure the right amount goes to the right person,” said co-chair Rep. Jake Johnson. “Federal pandemic unemployment benefits were particularly vulnerable to fraud and mistakes. North Carolinians need to know the unemployment system is fair, fast, and free of fraud.”
“It is good that both the State Auditor and the General Assembly can hold agencies accountable,” co-chair Rep. Harry Warren said. “I look forward to working with her to ensure broad and deep oversight on behalf of taxpayers.”
Assistant Secretary Keith and Auditor Wood have submitted presentations ahead of Wednesday’s hearing. Those can be found on the committee’s website.
DMV Testifies on Driver’s License Controversies
October 12, 2023
Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Wayne Goodwin defended the DMV’s handling of two driver’s license controversies in his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee Wednesday. Goodwin and Chief Deputy Commissioner Portia Manley told committee members the unusual process to select a driver’s license printing vendor was appropriate. Goodwin also addressed questions about a budget provision to extend the eight-year driver’s license renewal period to sixteen years.
Sixteen-Year Driver’s License Renewal Period
The REAL ID Act of 2005 requires that state driver’s licenses cannot be valid longer than eight years. Goodwin said he did not realize this until after DMV made its legislative request in February 2023, but he was less than clear why legislators were not made aware of this. He said the original request was an attempt to reduce wait times at DMV offices. Goodwin did not directly address the portion of the provision that would allow unlimited online renewal of driver’s licenses, merely stating that a new photo is required every sixteen years.
Rep. Jeff McNeely (R-Iredell) pressed the timeline of awareness and communication.
McNeely, chair of the Transportation Committee, said he did not receive any communication asking that the provision be removed. Members of the committee asked for email communications to track the chain of requests.
“Lack of communication to the chairs is the problem,” McNeely said. “More eyes could have realized what was happening and made sure we corrected this. In the future we need to broaden our net as we cast it.”
Driver’s License Issuance Contract
Goodwin testified that appropriate procedures were followed in selecting CBN Secure Technologies as a new vendor to produce North Carolina’s driver’s licenses.
Only a small number of companies produce credentials that meet federal, state, and American Associate of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) requirements. He explained that DMV chose to interview three of five companies that met its initial criteria. After site visits and presentations in Raleigh, DMV officials chose CBN based on their secure technologies.
Goodwin defended the process DMV used to select the company. Citing Session Law 2021-134 (HB650) that allows DMV to exempt five information technology projects from DIT oversight and requirements to increase the speed of technology modernization projects.
North Carolina General Statute 20-7(n)(4) requires that a driver’s license must contain a color photograph. Goodwin testified that CBN can print in color, but the company prefers black-and-white based on industry standards and security best practices. He said passports and “half” of U.S. state driver’s licenses are black-and-white. Goodwin said DMV’s request to add the words “or monochromatic” was rebuffed by “DOT leadership.”
Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash) raised concerns about data security given the CBN Secure Technologies is a global company. He further urged caution and a full, unrushed vetting process because of the importance of security.
Goodwin reiterated that the process used for selecting CBN Secure Technologies was in accordance with state law and included representatives from multiple departments. “No one person made the decision,” he said. “The decision relied upon the 2021 law…[was] discussed at the meetings earlier this year, is also based on recommendations of subject matter experts, it tracked DOT procurement and RFP process, and followed the direction, approval, and blessing of then-Secretary Boyette and our legal team.”
More to Come
Committee members were not satisfied with Goodwin and Manley’s responses on either issue. They requested more documentation of the procurement process and of communications related to the legislative provision. Chairman Harry Warren said the Committee also hopes to have the Commissioner back to discuss customer service at driver’s license offices.
House Oversight Committee Investigates DMV Contract and Renewal Extension; Commissioner, Deputy to Testify
October 10, 2023
Raleigh, NC – The House Oversight and Reform Committee has issued a letter to the Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and Deputy Commissioner Portia Manley requesting their appearance before the committee Wednesday, October 11, at 9:00 a.m. in the Legislative Building Auditorium.
The committee is investigating the process that DMV used to award a contract for printing driver’s license to Canadian company CBN Secure Technologies. DMV exempted the project from IT procurement oversight and did not use a competitive bidding process. Members will probe the process, timing, and rationale behind DMV’s decision. They will also pursue allegations that the vendor’s technology may not be able to produce driver’s licenses that comply with state law.
Additionally, the committee will seek to understand the reversal in Commissioner Goodwin’s support for extending the 8-year driver’s license renewal period to 16 years. Goodwin made the legislative budget request for DMV in February. Since the budget passed, however, the commissioner has spoken out against the provision, saying the extension violates federal REAL ID requirements. Members attempt to determine when DMV learned that the longer renewal period would not meet federal requirements, why it was not until after making the request, and why the agency did not make legislators aware sooner.
“One purpose of oversight is to examine if department officials are complying with the law,” said committee co-chair Rep. Jake Johnson. “We have to wonder whether this contract is even valid if the company cannot produce a legal state driver’s license. The speed and lack of oversight in awarding this contract also raise concerns related to the security of North Carolinians’ personally identifiable information.”
“The commissioner has provided little to back up his statements that 16-year license renewals do not comply with federal REAL ID requirements,” co-chair Rep. Harry Warren said. “To the extent that he is correct, it is not clear why it took until after he made the legislative request to learn this. We want to clear up the confusion.”
Improving Trust in Elections
July 5, 2023
“If people can’t trust the elections process, how can they trust anything else in government?” House Oversight and Reform Committee Co-Chair Jake Johnson asked before hearing testimony from North Carolina State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell on June 22.
Brinson Bell told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that the state’s election data and processes are largely trusted and trustworthy, though not perfect. “Trust to me,” she said” is if you don’t believe in the system, you won’t use the system. And we had 75% of our voters turn out in 2020. We had 51% turn out in 2022. These numbers are high compared to other election years. So, when you look at that, our voters do have trust in how we conduct elections in North Carolina.”
Committee members asked about ways to further improve trust, whether reducing the 600,000 potentially out-of-date or inaccurate records, making online data easier to connect and understand, or clarifying ballot processes. Topics included absentee ballots, same-day registration, voter ID implementation, and database management.
Budget concerns were a late addition to the agenda. From 2017 through 2019, Governor Cooper’s budget requests and the budgets passed by the General Assembly were similar in size and priorities. In 2021, the General Assembly chose to set aside $5 million for “mobile voting support” instead of Cooper’s smaller request to upgrade the State Board’s campaign finance software and digitize historical voting data. Despite the lack of funding, Cooper did not make the same requests in 2022. Setting aside the massive influx of federal funds during Covid, appropriations climbed from $6.8 million in fiscal year 207-18 to $8.3 million in fiscal year 2022-23, a 25 percent increase in five years.
Dr. Andy Jackson of the John Locke Foundation, Marian Lewin of the Legal Women Voters, Carolyn Smith of Democracy North Carolina, and J. Christian Adams of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) also provided written testimony to address those concerns.
Questions from committee members focused on remaining shortcomings, including the accuracy of voter rolls. While those disparities may not result in large numbers, in a close election, they could make the difference between winning and losing.
Rep. Jeff McNeely (R-Iredell) said Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) Executive Director Shane Hamlin said North Carolina could have 600,000 out-of-date or inaccurate records based on experience in other states. Brinson Bell’s presentation showed that 2,151 same-day registrations, either first-time or relocated voters, in 2020 could not be verified.
Chairman Johnson asked about another anomaly of 266 duplicate ballots in 2022. Rep. Maria Cervania (D-Wake) gave Brinson Bell an opportunity to defend the system because the number of problem votes and registrations is a small percentage of the 7.3 million registered voters, or the 3.8 million votes cast.
… our voters do have trust in how we conduct elections in North Carolina.”
Karen Brinson Bell
Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash) also raised concern based on a PILF study that found 1,454 voters who were not naturalized citizens were registered in 2014. Asked if there are protocols in place to prevent these errant registrations, Brinson Bell said there is an attestation of citizenship on the registration form.
Additionally in his series of questions, Chesser asked how voter rolls can be as clean as possible. In response to an example of a registered voter who dies out of state, Brinson Bell acknowledged North Carolina would depend on ad hoc information from the other state. She added that the State Board of Elections is unable to get information such as deaths from the federal Social Security Administration: “We have to be compliant with what they require for security reasons, and we’re not there.”
In his written testimony, Jackson recommended that North Carolina “participate in an appropriate interstate data-sharing program to help identify and remove registrations of people who have permanently moved out of North Carolina or died outside the state.”
Brinson Bell explained to Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) how the State Board handles duplicate registrations. It regularly checks names against death and felony reports from other agencies and alerts counties to update their rolls. Even when a voter is marked as “inactive” or “removed” during list maintenance, that voter’s history remains. Brinson Bell conceded that the data are hard for people to understand as seen in the “ginormous increase in public record requests and data requests,” but had no ready answer to improve conformity across data sets.
Upgrading the election management system could provide enhanced security Brinson Bell also emphasized the need for updated software to respond to changing election law and ensure accurate voter lists.
The productive hearing made clear that the voters largely trust the system, and their trust is largely well-placed. Voter ID implementation, earlier deadlines for mail-in ballots, more robust checks on voter registrations, and clearer presentation of online data could all enhance the election system’s integrity and voters’ faith in it.
Governor’s Staff and SBI General Counsel Provide Few Answers
May 3, 2023
On Tuesday, May 2, House Oversight and Reform Committee members pursued allegations by State Bureau of Investigation Director Bob Schurmeier of overreach and strong-arming by Governor Roy Cooper’s office.
Director Schurmeier testified in March that the governor’s Chief of Staff Kristi Jones and General Counsel Eric Fletcher attempted to interfere in his personnel decisions and intimidate him to resign. He also testified that SBI General Counsel Angel Gray was unsure what responsibilities she had either to the Bureau or to the governor.
Jones, Fletcher, and Gray appeared before the Committee to address the allegations. But the hearing ended with more questions than answers. The three cited rules of professional conduct and other impediments that left them unable to discuss or refute any of the allegations. Despite this, they did mark areas of disagreement with Schurmeier’s testimony and made clear statements that they did not engage in anything that could be deemed inappropriate.
Gray stated that, contrary to Schurmeier’s testimony, she was not conflicted or confused about her role as general counsel of the SBI. “My job is to give advice to my client to make the best decision possible.”
Likewise, Jones, amidst repeated attempts to divert the Committee’s attention, also denied Schurmeier’s accusations of intimidation and interference. She said her relationship with the director was collaborative on hiring practices, training, recruitment, and retention.
Governor Cooper nominated State Capitol Police Chief Roger “Chip” Hawley as SBI director when Schurmeier’s term ends. When questioned by Representatives, Fletcher and Jones seemed confused about the process as well as the provisions in place if the successor had not been confirmed and duly qualified.
Schurmeier testified to meetings with Jones and Fletcher in late 2022 where they asked him to resign and threatened him with an investigation due to discrimination complaints. Jones did not dispute that the meetings happened but that he mischaracterized those meetings and the nature of the look into SBI practices.
Co-Chair Jake Johnson brought to light email communications that did not include Schurmeier between Gray and governor’s staff on SBI matters dating back to 2019. Some of the emails included little more than a personal cell phone number and an invitation to continue communication that way. They suggested significantly more contact between Gray and the governor’s staff without Schurmeier’s knowledge than they had testified to earlier in the hearing.
After the hearing, Johnson said, “I think it is extremely troubling that the general counsel of an independent state agency, and the chief of staff of a sitting governor would be discussing personnel and who knows what other issues behind the back of the sitting SBI director. This testimony raises more questions than answers and certainly merits a follow up.”
Co-Chair Harry Warren called for further investigation in his closing statement and expressed his frustration afterward.
“Interference in personnel matters is much more fundamental than interference in any specific case at the SBI. It is extremely unfortunate that the governor’s office chose not to answer committee members’ pertinent questions. Hopefully, they will be more forthcoming as the committee continues to investigate Director Schurmeier’s allegations,” Warren said. “North Carolinians are entitled to the truth.”
Statements from House Oversight and Reform Co-Chairs Regarding May 2 SBI Hearing
May 2, 2023
Representative Jake Johnson: “I think it is extremely troubling that the General Counsel of an Independent state agency, and the Chief of Staff of a sitting Governor would be discussing personnel and who knows what other issues behind the back of the sitting SBI Director. This testimony raises more questions than answers and certainly merits a follow up.”
Representative Harry Warren: “Interference in personnel matters is much more fundamental than interference in any specific case at the SBI. lt’s extremely unfortunate that the governor’s office chose not to answer committee members’ pertinent questions. Hopefully, they will be more forthcoming as the committee continues to investigate Director Schurmeier’s allegations. North Carolinians are entitled to the truth.”