Hurricane Headache – Insurance Costs Keep Climbing

MOBILE, Ala. WALA) – If you own a home along the Gulf Coast, you learn
to dread hurricane season. You worry about damage to your home and the
damage to your wallet caused by ever increasing insurance rates.
The problem is getting so bad, some folks are organizing to get something done. The big question is…can anything be done?
Charles Hall was born in his home in Fairhope. It’s been in his
family for years. But now, all the memories contained within its walls
are at risk.
Hall and his wife don’t have homeowner’s insurance. He says
the premiums have gotten too expensive. Hall told me, “Normally, I’m
very, very nervous when I go to work in the morning to know that
there’s a possibility that something could happen.”
Just a few years ago, homeowner’s insurance on Hall’s home
cost $1,750. The latest quote put the bill at $3,400. I asked Hall,
“Did they give you any reason why they doubled?” Hall said, “Well, our
proximity to the Bay I presume, it’s the ‘south of I-65 theory’.” I
added, “But you’re not anywhere near the water,” and he admitted, “No,
no I’m not.”
In fact, Hall lives about 9 miles away from Mobile Bay. He
told me, “I’m looking for the cheapest deal I can get, that I can
The cost of homeowner’s insurance in Alabama increased by
two-thirds between 2001 and 2005 as insurance companies faced billions
of dollars worth of hurricane damage claims.
To cut its losses, State Farm is pulling out of the homeowner’s insurance market in Florida altogether.
[State Farm sent the following: Following months of discussions
over its January 2009 plan to withdraw from the state’s residential
property insurance market, State Farm Florida and the Florida Office of
Insurance Regulation OIR) reached a settlement… The resulting
Consent Order, which replaces the OIR’s conditional approval of State
Farm Florida’s filing to withdraw from the Florida property insurance
market, establishes a plan for State Farm Florida to non-renew 125,000
of its more than 810,000 property insurance policies. It also provides
for the implementation of a base rate increase of 14.8 percent on
homeowners and condominium unit owners policies.] Allstate, Alfa and now Farmers will drop wind and/or hail coverage
on thousands of policies in Mobile and Baldwin counties in the next
year and a half.
Allstate spokesman Shane Robinson told me sometimes, companies
have to make difficult decisions to preserve their capital and dropping
wind and hail coverage was one of them. But he said those families
losing coverage have other options. He told me, “… for those customers,
they all fall within the Alabama windpool association, so they should
be qualified to be written under the Alabama windpool.” “Which can be
very expensive coverage,” I said. Robinson replied, “You know,
honestly, I think you’re right. It’s probably a little bit more on the
expensive side.”
The Alabama Insurance Underwriting Association , more commonly
called the windpool is a safety net with a big hole in it.
Just 5 years ago, the Alabama windpool insured $300 million worth of
property. It was prepared to cover $30 million. It had to pay out $150
million in claims.
Alabama State Senator Ben Brooks told me that now, the Alabama
windpool insures more than $2 billion worth of property. It simply
doesn’t have enough money to cover another 50 percent loss, a billion
dollars. The bill would have to be picked up by Alabama taxpayers.
[Robert Groves of the Alabama Insurance Underwriting
Association disputes the claim. He says, “This is not an accurate
statement. The Alabama taxpayers are not on the hook for any costs
associated with the operations of the AIUA. All insurers who are
licensed to sell property insurance in the State of Alabama are the
ones who pick up the tab for AIUA losses that are not covered by
reinsurance. It is the insurance industry, not the taxpayer, who pays
for the losses.”] [My response: Senator Brooks told me he believes Alabama
taxpayers would eventually have to bear the cost of a catastrophic
loss. He believes in that case, the AIUA would be forced to assess the
insurance carriers, which would then go to the state for a rate
increase to cover the cost, which would be paid by policyholders.] Some of the insurance companies that remained have increased
their rates or imposed what’s called a hurricane deductible. Say your
house is insured for $200 thousand and you have a hurricane deductible
of 5%. That means, if you suffer damage from a hurricane, first $10
thousand worth of repairs to your home comes out of your pocket.
Amy Bach is executive director of United Policyholders , a
non-profit organization in San Francisco that helps consumers with
insurance problems. She told me that groups like the Homeowners’
Hurricane Insurance Initiative in Alabama are doing the right thing, by
putting pressure on the state Department of Insurance to serve as an
advocate for consumers. Bach told me, “Alabamians have been paying
relatively high rates for a long time. Why? You have to look to the
regulator in that situation.”
Betty Gurley is a member of the Insurance Initiative. She says
the regulator in this case, the Alabama Department of Insurance isn’t
transparent enough. She told me, “The Department of Insurance I would
say should be a vehicle for individuals. I don’t know that it is.”
Jim Ridling is Alabama’s Insurance Commissioner, who was
appointed by Governor Bob Riley on September 15, 2008. He told me his
department can’t distribute rate or claims information it doesn’t
collect. “It’s not that we refuse to give them. We don’t have them.
Never had had them. The Department’s never required companies to report
on that basis, so that the information didn’t exist…The Department’s
number 1 objective is, and always has been, representing the consumer
and protecting the consumer.”
That’s where State Senator Ben Brooks comes in.
He’s been working to pass a package of bills that will force
the Department to be more transparent, and when it comes to insurance
policies, balance availability with affordability. But he’s had trouble
getting folks in other parts of the state to go along with it. He said,
“We unfortunately have some geographic issues where some that are in
the far northern parts of the state don’t quite empathize with the
problems that we’re having down here.”
Brooks continued, “The average homeowner that is impacted by
this is the homeowner in Theodore, Tillman’s Corner, Grand Bay, Daphne,
Or in Fairhope. In the meantime, homeowners will have to wait, pay and pray we don’t get another hurricane soon.
How do the gubernatorial candidates plan to attack the rising
cost of homeowner’s insurance in Alabama? Keep in mind, the governor
appoints the insurance commissioner. Two weeks ago, I asked each
candidate his or her stand on the homeowner’s insurance crisis. Three
replied; Roy Moore, Kay Ivey and James Potts. To read their answers,
click here .
If you’d like to contact the Alabama Department of Insurance, click here . Its mailing address is P O Box 303351,
Montgomery, AL 36130-3351.
You can call the Homeowners’ Hurricane Insurance Initiative at 251-928-3430. Ask for Michelle or Dan.
Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor maintains a database of hurricane reform information about Alabama.