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"Anything on wheels"

Medical transport is a high-growth component of NSM's varied transportation programs

By Phil Zinkewicz

NSM Insurance Group (Norman Spencer McKernan) is a managing general underwriter (MGU) which has been in business for more than 35 years and writes $300 million in premiums annually. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of industry-specific insurance programs and one of its areas of expertise is transportation, which NSM brands as “Wheels.”

“Our approach to writing transportation business is broader than most of our competitors,” says George Corolla, program director for the Wheels division of NSM. “Others will write long-haul trucking and public auto and maybe one or two other exposures. But we have an appetite for anything on wheels, which includes not only long-haul trucking and public auto, but also commercial auto, distressed accounts, owner operators, and emergency and non-emergency medical transportation vehicles. Emergency transport vehicles are vehicles equipped with lights and sirens that transport sick or injured people to hospitals. Non-emergency vehicles are usually vans that transport ambulatory or non-ambulatory patients to doctors’ appointments or hospitals.”

Corolla gave Rough Notes a rundown of Wheels’ product line. “Our commercial auto program provides monoline commercial auto with A rated carriers,” he says. “NSM has been in the long-haul trucking business for about 13 years. Our truck risk program offers a specialized long-haul trucking package for operations of 50 or fewer power units. Coverages available include automobile liability, motor truck cargo, physical damage, property and CGL. Our experience has been excellent in this class. We are very careful in our underwriting. We weed out risks that our carriers never see. We have our own template for underwriting criteria.

“We also provide a market for distressed accounts—accounts that have been non-renewed or whose carrier no longer writes that class of business,” continues Corolla. “Some of the risks we have been successful with include: airport shuttles, cement mix in transit, sand and gravel haulers, garbage and trash haulers, rental car shuttle accounts, delivery services, hazardous materials haulers, towing companies and security patrol companies. Our public auto provides coverage for livery, including black car, taxi, buses, and similar accounts. For owner operators, we provide non-trucking liability, physical damage, occupational accident/contingent liability/fleet workers compensation, health, accident and disability. Through our True Transport Insure department we provide a dedicated unit of P&C and health licensed specialists for personalized services, flexible billing and settlement payment plans. We also write workers compensation for some of these classes.”

However, it is in the emergency services transportation arena, and particularly in the non-emergency transportation area, that Corolla sees significant opportunities for growth.

“In these areas, we see further opportunities as the baby boomers age and as the need for these services continues to grow,” says Corolla. “We have taken on a number of new accounts in this area. Our medical transportation brand is Ambupro. This is an insurance program specifically designed for a wide variety of medical transportation companies. Ambupro offers a combination of solid financial backing and comprehensive coverage to such exposures as ambulance, vans and paratransit organizations. Program features include: auto liability and physical damage; comprehensive general and professional liability; workers compensation; property coverage, including building and contents; business income; portable equipment and computers.”

However, further growth will depend upon economic conditions and whether government funding will be available to assist in that growth, says Corolla. “For some of these businesses, the basic operating expenses have gone up. In past years, gas cost $2 a gallon, but in 2005-2006, gas went up to $3 a gallon and over. Without additional or stable government funding, some of these businesses may have trouble keeping doors open.”

Corolla says that with all its transportation exposures, NSM plays a vital role in risk management. “With all of our transportation programs, we have to be concerned about the condition of the vehicle as well as the qualifications of the driver. We approach all risks cautiously and often have lengthy discussions with our carriers and clients on risk management procedures. Proper risk management is a part of everything we underwrite. Many times, we will write a risk contingent upon the client’s working with our risk managers or our carriers’ risk managers. Many of the carriers we work with will do a qualification risk assessment, where they send someone out to look at the account. We use state and local services to verify the information the client has originally given us. In addition, we have 10 regional offices we can call upon to find out about a potential insured. They are often our listening posts.”

Risk management is particularly important in emergency and non-emergency transportation accounts, according to Corolla. “We have to make certain that drivers are trained properly. For example, in emergency vehicles, drivers must use caution when going through red lights when transporting someone to a hospital. In non-emergency vehicles, drivers have to be aware of how patients are strapped down, especially if they are in wheelchairs. Remember, the occupants of these vehicles have already suffered some sort of injury or are ill in some way. Drivers must take care not to exacerbate the situation.”

Nevertheless, despite all of these exposures to loss, Corolla still believes that the transportation industry will remain profitable. “Our concept of ‘wheels’ is not going to go away. These transportation exposures are too important to the economy. Twenty years ago, we saw a lot of submissions from steel mills. We don’t see them anymore. But transporta-tion risks will always be with us. The trucking industry is consolidating, but that means there will be bigger companies with more units that have the same exposures. There will always be emergencies, so the emergency transportation industry will continue. And, again, I believe the non-emergency transportation industry will grow significantly because of the aging population.”

Corolla says that the transportation industry and the niches NSM has carved within it will remain of paramount importance to the NSM organization. “We have been and will continue to be a long-term player in this market. Along with that promise, we will continue to emphasize sound risk management and loss control techniques so that we will make a profit and our carriers will make a profit. But most important, we will continue to make a concerted effort to understand our clients’ needs and to satisfy those needs.”

Being an MGU, NSM works with independent agents and brokers as its distribution system. One of NSM’s agent clients is the Opelousas, Louisiana-based Dupre Carrier Godchaux Agency, Inc. Jenny Manuel of that agency works with NSM on a regular basis, and she agrees that the non-emergency transport industry is on the verge of significant growth. “In our state alone, there are funded programs in place to bring Medicaid and Medicare patients back and forth to hospitals and doctors.”

Manuel also agrees with Corolla that this is an area in which sound risk management techniques are of extreme importance. “The most important thing is that the drivers of these vehicles are licensed and trained to transport these patients safely. That said, this could be a burgeoning business.” *

For more information:
NSM Insurance Group
Contact: George Corolla
Phone: (800) 970-9778, Ext. 172
Web site:

Click on image for enlargement

“There will always be emergencies, so the emergency transportation industry will continue ... [also] The non-emergency transportation industry will grow significantly because of the aging population.”

—George Corolla
Program Director
Wheels Division
NSM Insurance Group


In addition to providing coverage for “anything on wheels,” NSM’s Transportation team members act as risk managers for their clients.