Prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, coverage for losses from such attacks was normally included in general insurance policies without additional cost to the policyholders. Following the attacks, such coverage became expensive, if offered at all. Moreover, some observers feared that the absence of insurance against terrorism loss would have a wider economic impact, because insurance is required to consummate a variety of transactions (e.g., real estate). For example, if real estate deals were not completed due to lack of insurance, this could have ripple effects—such as job loss—on related industries like the construction industry. Terrorism insurance was largely unavailable for most of 2002, and some have argued that this adversely affected parts of the economy, while others suggest the evidence is inconclusive.
Congress responded to the disruption in the insurance market by passing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (TRIA; P.L. 107-297), which created a temporary three-year Terrorism Insurance Program. Under TRIA, the government would share the losses on commercial property and casualty insurance should a foreign terrorist attack occur, with potential recoupment of this loss sharing after the fact. In addition, TRIA requires insurers to make terrorism coverage available to commercial policyholders, but does not require policyholders to purchase the coverage. The program expiration date was extended in 2005 (P.L. 109-144), 2007 (P.L. 110-160), and 2015 (P.L. 114-1). Over the course of such reauthorizations, the prospective government share of losses has been reduced and the recoupment amount increased, although the 2007 reauthorization also expanded the program to cover losses from acts of domestic terrorism. The TRIA program is currently slated to expire at the end of 2020.
In general terms, if a terrorist attack occurs under TRIA, the insurance industry covers the entire amount for relatively small losses. For a medium-sized loss, the government assists insurers initially but is then required to recoup the payments it made to insurers through a broad levy on insurance policies afterwards—the federal role is to spread the losses over time and over the entire insurance industry and insurance policyholders. As the size of losses grows larger, the federal government covers more of the losses without this mandatory recoupment. Ultimately, for the largest losses, the government is not required to recoup the payments it has made, although discretionary recoupment remains possible. The precise dollar values where losses cross these small, medium, and large thresholds are uncertain and will depend on how the losses are distributed among insurers.
The specifics of the current program are as follows: (1) a terrorist act must cause $5 million in insured losses to be certified for TRIA coverage; (2) the aggregate insured losses from certified acts of terrorism must be $180 million in a year for the government coverage to begin (this amount increases to $200 million in 2020); and (3) an individual insurer must meet a deductible of 20% of its annual premiums for the government coverage to begin. Once these thresholds are met, the government covers 81% of insured losses due to terrorism (this amount decreases to 80% in 2020). If the insured losses are less than $37.5 billion, the Secretary of the Treasury is required to recoup 140% of government outlays through surcharges on TRIA-eligible property and casualty insurance policies. As insured losses rise above $37.5 billion, the Secretary is required to recoup a progressively reduced amount of the outlays. At some high insured loss level, which will depend on the exact distribution of losses, the Secretary would no longer be required to recoup outlays.
Since TRIA’s passage, the private industry’s willingness and ability to cover terrorism risk have increased. According to data collected by the Treasury, in 2017, approximately 78% of insureds purchased the optional terrorism coverage, paying $3.65 billion in premiums. Over the life of the program, premiums earned by unrelated insurers have totaled $38 billion. This relative market calm has been under the umbrella of TRIA coverage and in a period in which no terrorist attacks have occurred that resulted in government payments under TRIA. It is unclear how the insurance market would react to the expiration of the federal program, although at least some instability might be expected were this to occur. With the upcoming 2020 expiration of the program, the 116th Congress may consider legislation to extend TRIA; to date, no such legislation has been introduced.