W.Va. Insurance Risk Pool board comes to town

PARKERSBURG – Wood County played host Friday to the board of directors for the first liability risk pool in the state, the West Virginia Insurance Risk Pool.

The pool held its quarterly meeting at the Blennerhassett Hotel.

Wood County was one of the original stakeholders in the member-owned and operated program. The self-insured program started in 2007 with 19 counties.

The Wood County Commission and Mountwood Park are members of the agency, which was the first liability risk pool in the state. Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch serves on the board. Since signing on for liability coverage and worker’s compensation with the agency, the county has received dividend checks and saved on premiums.

“We have received dividends when the pool has excess money in a particular policy year. We averaged a savings of anywhere from $100,000-$200,000 a year on our premiums over our previous policy,” Couch said.

The pool provides liability, property and Worker’s Compensation coverage.

Couch said the county was an original stakeholder for the program and later joined the worker’s compensation division of the agency. Workers’ compensation coverage was first offered through the risk pool about three years ago.

Chris Carey, administrator, said there are seven counties represented on the board and the pool has more than 100 participants, including 42 member counties and a number of county-related agencies such as public service districts, economic development authorities, park authorities and solid waste authorities.

“Right now we are collecting about $10 million a year in contributions into the pool and things are moving forward pretty well,” Carey said.

The administrator said the concept of the risk pool, while already in place in about 500 locations in other areas around the country, was a relatively new idea in West Virginia and there were skeptics in the early days.

The Wood County Commission switched the county’s workers’ compensation coverage from BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Co. after the West Virginia Legislature made changes in state law opening up the opportunity for all public entities, including county commissions and quasi-governmental entities, to obtain workers’ compensation coverage outside BrickStreet.

“Our rates we are charging are actually still low, less than the rates we were charging in 2007. So, going on seven years now, we’ve never had a rate increase, and I don’t think that’s consistent with what other people have been dealing with in the commercial insurance market,” Carey said.

“It’s kind of shocking, in my mind, that no other entities, like cities, have taken the risk pool model and run with it, but so far, I still think there’s a wait-and-see approach. Seven years is a short time, and I think in a few years, there will be others getting involved,” Couch said.

“There are school boards, auto dealer association pools, contractor groups, little merchant pools for the smaller mom-and-pop types of businesses, it’s pretty common to see those as property and casualty pools in other areas,” Carey said.