When insured parties experience a loss for a specified peril, the coverage entitles the policyholder to make a claim against the insurer for the covered amount of loss as specified by the policy. The fee paid by the insured to the insurer for assuming the risk is called the premium. Insurance premiums from many insureds are used to fund accounts reserved for later payment of claims – in theory for a relatively few claimants – and for overhead costs. So long as an insurer maintains adequate funds set aside for anticipated losses (called reserves), the remaining margin is an insurer's profit.
In the United States, the most prevalent form of self-insurance is governmental risk management pools. They are self-funded cooperatives, operating as carriers of coverage for the majority of governmental entities today, such as county governments, municipalities, and school districts. Rather than these entities independently self-insure and risk bankruptcy from a large judgment or catastrophic loss, such governmental entities form a risk pool. Such pools begin their operations by capitalization through member deposits or bond issuance. Coverage (such as general liability, auto liability, professional liability, workers compensation, and property) is offered by the pool to its members, similar to coverage offered by insurance companies. However, self-insured pools offer members lower rates (due to not needing insurance brokers), increased benefits (such as loss prevention services) and subject matter expertise. Of approximately 91,000 distinct governmental entities operating in the United States, 75,000 are members of self-insured pools in various lines of coverage, forming approximately 500 pools. Although a relatively small corner of the insurance market, the annual contributions (self-insured premiums) to such pools have been estimated up to 17 billion dollars annually.
At the most basic level, initial ratemaking involves looking at the frequency and severity of insured perils and the expected average payout resulting from these perils. Thereafter an insurance company will collect historical loss data, bring the loss data to present value, and compare these prior losses to the premium collected in order to assess rate adequacy. Loss ratios and expense loads are also used. Rating for different risk characteristics involves at the most basic level comparing the losses with "loss relativities"—a policy with twice as many losses would therefore be charged twice as much. More complex multivariate analyses are sometimes used when multiple characteristics are involved and a univariate analysis could produce confounded results. Other statistical methods may be used in assessing the probability of future losses.
Insurance company claims departments employ a large number of claims adjusters supported by a staff of records management and data entry clerks. Incoming claims are classified based on severity and are assigned to adjusters whose settlement authority varies with their knowledge and experience. The adjuster undertakes an investigation of each claim, usually in close cooperation with the insured, determines if coverage is available under the terms of the insurance contract, and if so, the reasonable monetary value of the claim, and authorizes payment.
Large loss: The size of the loss must be meaningful from the perspective of the insured. Insurance premiums need to cover both the expected cost of losses, plus the cost of issuing and administering the policy, adjusting losses, and supplying the capital needed to reasonably assure that the insurer will be able to pay claims. For small losses, these latter costs may be several times the size of the expected cost of losses. There is hardly any point in paying such costs unless the protection offered has real value to a buyer.
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