California Updates FAIR Plan for Homeowners

21 Nov
A California wildfire seen from the hills of Hollywood, this fire ignited on November 8, 2018 and burned 96,949 acres of land. The fire destroyed 1,643 structures.

The number of homeowners who have lost their California homeowners insurance due to wildfire threats keeps growing as insurers pull out of fire prone areas. Those homeowners will now be able to purchase comprehensive policies through the state mandated FAIR plan due to an order issued by the California insurance commissioner.

As homeowners in wildfire areas have seen their insurance policies cancelled or non-renewed by their insurer, more and more have been turning to the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan for coverage. Unfortunately, current FAIR Plan policies offer limited coverage, only providing protection for fire, explosions and smoke damage. 

Those limits will soon disappear according to California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara who on Thursday ordered the plan to begin selling comprehensive policies by June 1. These new policies will offer coverage for other perils such as theft, water damage, liability protection and even damage caused by falling objects. The new plans will also come with coverage limits up to $3 million which is double the current limit. 

“You have people that now are being sent to the FAIR Plan and they have no other alternative. They won’t even get a call back from an insurance company to offer them a quote,” Lara said in a recent interview.

FAIR Plan Executive Not Happy

The FAIR Plan has been around since 1968 and is not funded by taxpayer dollars. All property and casualty insurance companies that write policies in the state must contribute to the plan. 

The FAIR plan is considered the insurer of last resort, offering coverage in areas where homeowners find it difficult to impossible to find coverage in the private market. As wildfires have become more common and larger in recent years, the FAIR Plan has been growing. The number of FAIR plans has grown roughly 8 percent each year since 2016. 

Wildfires have made getting insurance in some areas extremely difficult. According to insurance department data, roughly 350,000 policies have been declined for renewal since 2015. 

While the new policies will certainly be a hit with homeowners unable to find coverage in the private market, FAIR Plan President Anneliese Jivan is not thrilled about the new policies. In a recent interview she called the order from the Insurance Commissioner “a misguided approach.”

Jivan also said that forcing the FAIR Plan to write more comprehensive policies “would have unintended consequences that could ultimately hurt consumers. ”It will also result in increased operating costs that will be passed along in the form of higher rates for all policyholders,” she continued.

The Department of Insurance disagrees, spokesman Michael Soller said that while the new comprehensive policies would cost more, consumers would save money by not having to purchase multiple policies.

Details Are Not Available Yet

Currently, pricing is unavailable for the new plans, but FAIR plan polices are designed to break even and the insurance industry must cover any losses the Plan incurs. On the flip side, if the plan makes a profit, the insurance companies get that money back. 

The reason that coverage has been limited with current FAIR plans is because insurance companies don’t like state-mandated plans that compete with private market plans. However, as homeowners have found it impossible to find coverage in certain wildfire prone areas, the FAIR Plan has become more necessary. 

Tips to Lower Your Premium

Here are a few tips to help lower your premium regardless of where your home is located:

Shop Your Coverage: This is probably the best option when it comes to savings, but for homeowners located in wildfire prone areas it may not be an option right now. Continue to shop your California home insurance coverage as some insurers may move back into these areas and start writing policies again.

Insurers rate risk differently so premium quotes can vary dramatically. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples when it comes to coverage levels and deductibles. 

Improve Your Home: Upgrading your home with storm shutters, a sprinkler system or impact resistant roof can help keep your premium reasonable. If you live in a fire prone area, consider creating a buffer zone around your home and have your property fire mitigated. 

Up Your Deductible: Pushing up your deducible is another great way to lower your insurance costs. Insurers love it when you have more skin in the game so doubling your deductible can result in a significant discount

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