­

Consumers in 11 states hardest hit by weather catastrophes in 2011 should brace themselves for homeowners insurance rate increases amounting to nearly $100 on every $500 in coverage.

Not that the hikes are necessary.

In a recent study, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says insurers are more and more often shifting the cost of weather catastrophes onto homeowners as they "significantly and methodically" decrease their financial responsibility for weather catastrophes like hurricanes, tornados and floods.

The scathing study says "the insurance industry has moved from its historic role as a calculated risk-taker to one of a risk-avoider, exposing consumers and taxpayers to much higher costs."

The report comes on the heels of insurance rating and information source A.M. Best reporting recent rate increase request filings of up to 20 percent or more from insurance companies in 11 states, including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.

The rate increase requests follow a record year for major disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports the nation suffered 99 major disaster declarations in 2011, more than any other year since FEMA began recording the statistic back in 1953.

Hurricane Irene slammed the Eastern Seaboard along with Tropical Storms Irene and Lee. Swarms of tornados also twisted through the Southeast and Midwest last year, taking lives and destroying communities.

"Insurance commissioners should block many of these pending rate increases because they place an unwarranted financial burden on homeowners, many of whom are coping with severe financial difficulties in a bad economy," said J. Robert Hunter, CFA's Director of Insurance and a former federal insurance administrator and state insurance commissioner.

"In the last 20 years, insurers have been so successful at shifting costs to consumers and taxpayers that they are currently overcapitalized and cannot justify higher homeowners' rates," Hunter said.

To demonstrate how much more consumers are paying for catastrophe coverage in recent years, CFA's study "Insurance Industry's Disappearing Weather Catastrophe Risk"offered a hypothetical example of how much the owner of a home worth $100,000 with a typical policy would have paid for losses after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, compared to after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Assuming that the home had a $500 deductible under Andrew and a 5 percent deductible during Katrina, if $10,000 in damages occurred, the homeowner would have paid $500 to repair the damage after Andrew, but $5,000 after Katrina.

If the homeowner had to upgrade the home's electrical system, the insurance policy would have fully paid for these costs after Andrew, but paid nothing after Katrina.

If some water damage occurred at the same time, the policy would have fully covered the wind claim of $9,500 after Andrew, but paid nothing after Katrina.

The study also suggests insurers are so over-capitalized the higher rates are unnecessary.

The traditional measure of adequate financial solidity for property/casualty insurers was whether they carried $1 of surplus for every $2 they made in premiums.

Industry experts says adequate solvency for property/casualty insurers is a surplus of $1.50 for every $1 they collect in premiums, but the current surplus averages about $1 for every 78 cents they collect in premiums - about double the required surplus.

"Even if insurers had to pay for all of the ten most costly catastrophic events in United States history, the property/casualty industry surplus would still be at an ultra-safe ratio of 1.2 to 1," according to CFA.

Log in to comment
­