California Homeowners Having Trouble Getting Insurance Coverage

16 Dec

Wildfires have ravaged California this year which is leading to hundreds of thousands of residents not being able to find homeowners insurance or if they do, it is an expensive bare-bones policy. Many homeowners have been dropped by their regular insurance company as insurers pull out of the market in certain areas. 

The problem is getting worse this year. According to an Insurance Journal article, California’s insurance regulator reported insurers refused to renew 235,250 home insurance policies in 2019. This is a 31% increase from the prior year. In areas that have fire risk that ranges from moderate to very high, the non-renewal rate skyrocketed to 61%.

Insurance companies claim they can no longer cover the losses they are incurring at current California homeowners insurance rates, leading to rate increase requests. In addition to higher rates, insurance companies are refusing to renew policies in high-risk areas. As insurers leave the market, many residents are forced to turn to the FAIR plan which is an insurance pool created by the state. 

The FAIR plan is designed as an insurer of last resort, but more and more residents have had to turn to it as options in the private market dwindle. According to the California Department of Insurance, the FAIR plan saw a 36 percent increase in policies from 2018 to 2019. 

Costs will continue to rise

More than likely, insurance costs will continue to rise unless a solution can be found. Damages from wildfires in 2018 hit $24 billion, roughly $18 billion of that was covered by insurers according to Munich Re. 

Carolyn Kousky, who is executive director at the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said in the Insurance Journal article that these years were a wakeup call, “2017 and 2018 were so catastrophic in terms of the wildfires that we saw that it really suggested to a lot of players that some of the projected changes from climate change, from poor forest management, all of that, were actually already here and hitting now.”

The FAIR plan tends to be expensive and most homeowners need more coverage than the FAIR plan provides, which can be hard to find in the private market. Insurance companies fleeing the market is usually a pretty extreme step. ‘The retreat by insurers in California underscores just how stark of an issue the wildfire losses have been, said Mike Zaremski, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG in the Insurance Journal article. “Typically, you don’t see companies actually shrink until they get poked in the shin, until they suffer some pain.”

Insurance companies are frustrated

Insurers claim they want to stay in the market but are frustrated by the process California uses to process rate increase requests. Insurers that seek the large rate increase they need to cover the risk presented by wildfires must go through a complicated and lengthy process and must present data from past years to justify their rate increase request.

What you’re seeing is a completely new paradigm as it relates to California wildfires,” said Mark Sektnan, a vice president for state affairs at industry group American Property Casualty Insurance Association in the Insurance Journal article. “In California, even though we all talk about this being the new normal, California insurance companies are not allowed to use catastrophe models to look into the future. Our rating system requires that you base it on past losses.”

On the other hand, California’s Department of Insurance claims that insurers file rate increases which fall right below the limit that requires more public scrutiny. While these rate increases are not what the insurers actually need, they want to save the time and hassle of a public hearing. Insurers are not being upfront about the total increases needed, according to the Department of insurance. 

The Department of Insurance has instituted a one-year ban on insurers refusing to renew policyholders that have been impacted by wildfires this year. The Department of Insurance would like to see the FAIR plan offer more comprehensive policies, so residents don’t have to find additional coverage in the private market. Unfortunately, they have not been able to make this happen yet. 

“I’m committed to look at how we give insurance companies the tools to better manage that risk so that we can maintain the competition and a competitive market,” Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said at an October hearing. “In return, however, there has to be a firm commitment from the voluntary insurance market to provide and maintain insurance for Californians.”

Looking to compare great rates and coverage options for your home in California? Please give us a call at 855-976-2656. We look forward to working with you!

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