The property casualty insurance industry over the past 20 years has paid federal income taxes totalling only about one percent of its gross income, according to a Federal Insurance Administration study obtained by The Washington Post.
The study shows that on a cash basis, the industry has been profitable in each of the past 20 years. FIA Deputy Administrator Robert Hunter called this a surprising fact "since we've heard so much about supposed sizable losses."
FIA Administrator Gloria Jimenez said the study was done to compare the tax status of the insurance industry with other industries. Asked if it showed that the insurance industry has been treated favorably, she said, "That's what we're getting at."
She said one of the reasons the insurance industry appears to have done extremely well in terms of its tax liability is the fact that it puts a large portion of its income into reserve accounts to pay off future losses, "and those reserve accounts are not taxed."
Hunter said the study indicates a need for a reevaluation of the tax policies of the insurance industry. His figures show that the property and casualty insurance industry pays out only about 8 percent of its gross profits in federal taxes, considerably less than most industries.
Industry officials questioned Hunter's figures, which he said came from a compilation of insurance companies' own financial statements.
"The figures he uses are misleading," said Ronald Vinson, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group. "Companies are taxed on profits and losses. When losses offset profits, they cut down on taxes. It's not fair to categorize taxes as a percentage of overall income."
Vinson contended that the industry paid an average of about 11 percent tax on its total profits during the past 20 years - higher than Hunter's estimate of 8 percent, but still significantly lower than most other industry averages.
According to Hunter's study, the property casualty insurance industry - which includes such things as auto and homeowner's insurance, but not life insurance - has written premiums bringing in about $603 billion during the past 20 years.
About 52 percent of that total, or $313 billion, was paid out in losses on those policies, while another $217 billion went to underwriting and other expenses. The rest went to profit and other expenditures, such as dividends to stockholders.
Overall profit during the 20 years, according to the study, was $44.4 billion. But the industry paid only about $3.4 billion in taxes, the analysis showed.