Insurance commissioners express concerns with the Affordable Care Act
Cedar Rapids Gazette
By Matthew Patane
April 28, 2017

DES MOINES — As his vehicle took a turn in “aggressive mode,” Josh Whitley’s hands hovered near the steering wheel but never touched it. The car, an autonomous research development vehicle from AutonomouStuff, didn’t need Whitley’s help.

Earlier in the day, Whitley had driven the vehicle — a red, modified Lincoln MKZ — around a pre-defined track in Water Works Park here. Along the way, he dropped digital breadcrumbs so the vehicle could learn the path it would soon take as Whitley showed off the technology to attendees of this year’s Global Insurance Symposium.

AutonomouStuff’s vehicle is a current-day signal of autonomous car technology making its way to the market. While cars that can completely drive themselves may be years away, the effect on the insurance industry will come soon rather than later, Whitley and others said Thursday.

“When we do automated testing of vehicles, we’re looking at data on the order of about four terabytes a day from each vehicle. … If you are looking to gather that data from your customers — and I would argue that they have incentive to give you that data — you’re going to have to set up a serious infrastructure to handle that much data collection,” Whitley said during a symposium panel.

While hype has revolved around cars that can completely drive themselves, current and evolving safety technology will reduce car accidents significantly before that milestone is reached, said Guy Fraker, chief learning officer for Morton, Ill.-based AutonomouStuff.

“The impact on the insurance industry is going to come long before full autonomy is widely adopted, simply because you don’t need full autonomy to eliminate — pick a number, 80, 85 percent — of the accidents that occur out there,” Fraker said.

Panelists also noted that the Midwest, including Iowa, already has ties to autonomous vehicle research, even if much of the attention is coming out of Silicon Valley. For example, agriculture has been one of the main industries investigating the technology since the 1990s, Whitley said.

Iowa officials also have increased attention on the emerging technology and the role the state can play in developing it. The University of Iowa has the National Advanced Driving Simulator, which researches vehicle safety technology.

“Iowa is the center of the universe for many of the technologies that are coming out today,” said Daniel McGehee, the director of the NADS.

Daniel McGehee (center) director of the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa, explains some of the technology in the simulator’s Volvo XC90 after giving test rides at Water Works Park in Des Moines Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Matthew Patane/The Gazette)

The Iowa Department of Transportation also has contracted with a mapping company, HERE, to create high-definition digital maps of along Interstate 380 between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. That same corridor also has been designated an official proving ground for autonomous technology by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT CONCERNS

In a separate panel Thursday, state insurance commissioners expressed worries about the state of the Affordable Care Act and the health care program’s uncertain future.

Oregon Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali Robinson said her state embraced the legislation, but has seen its challenges.

“At the same time, we’ve seen our uninsured rate reduced to historic lows, but we have also seen carriers go out of business, carriers leave the market, carriers lose hundreds of millions of dollars of capital, and I think that were it not for some of the uncertainty, we would be heading to stability,” Robinson said.

Concern about the future of the law and the health insurance marketplace, she said, is only creating more anxiety.

The commissioners argued that more flexibility at the state level could fix ongoing issues with the health care legislation, also known as Obamacare. Unless Congress acts, though, the commissioners said there is little they can do.

“Until Congress puts aside their partisan differences and is able to pass legislation, I’m not overly optimistic that there’s much we can do on the state level to improve the individual market,” Maryland Insurance Commissioner Alfred Redmer said.

Iowa is down to just one insurance company — Minnesota-based Medica — offering subsidy-eligible plans on the state’s ACA exchange. Aetna and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield in April said they will drop out of the exchange, citing financial losses, risk and uncertainty.

Doug Ommen, the Iowa insurance commissioner, said the state of Iowa’s market has given him “plenty of reason to already be pessimistic.”

“We’re all waiting for Congressional action, but at the same time I remain optimistic that something will get done, because if not, we will potentially have a market here in Iowa where thousands of individuals can’t get insurance on the individual market and that’s not a good result in any state,” Ommen said.