Insurance woes remain post-Katrina priority problem

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Five years after Katrina, the lack of affordable insurance remains the biggest problem slowing our recovery.

Participants in an economic conference in Hancock County heard that message Friday from an insurance executive and from Congressman Gene Taylor, who's made the fight for affordable insurance a priority issue.

Congressman Taylor is passionate about the issue because he speaks from experience.  Katrina destroyed his home in Bay St. Louis. His insurance company claimed it was water, not wind, and the congressman was forced to file suit to recover damages.

He's pushed hard for a national "all perils" insurance program, to no avail, and is still fighting to add wind coverage to the national flood insurance program.

"By and large, the only thing you can say about the insurance industry after the storm is, they screwed everybody equally," Congressman Taylor told the group, "And I do mean that."

The congressman minces no words when pushing for insurance reform. He said insurance companies got together after Katrina and generally agreed to blame water over wind for Katrina damages, thus limiting their liability.

"When they didn't pay, number one, people are forced to go to court. In my case, it was almost two years from the day of the storm that I got paid. The day we were supposed to go to trial, the insurance company finally got very generous and paid," said Taylor.

Convincing his colleagues in Congress to go along with the idea of adding wind coverage to the flood program is an uphill battle to say the least. He faces opposition from a powerful insurance lobby and from some in his own political party, including the administration.

"By and large it's going to be a party line vote. And unfortunately, when the administration says "we're not for it" there's going to be a bunch of Democrats that won't vote for it. We need the administration to change their tune."

Insurance executive Dave Treutel Jr. said the insurance problem is a significant one. He's a member of the group that oversees the state's wind pool coverage.

"We're trying to attract new companies. We've seen some new companies that have come in. We're starting to see a little bit of positive things, but it still hasn't affected the rates to the extent that it's helped the local economy," Treutel told participants.

Compounding the insurance dilemma:  The oil crisis.

Home owners already weary with high premium costs didn't need another reason to reconsider rebuilding.

"Do people want to come back and build again, the ones who've waited this long?  And we were seeing an upward trend. The numbers were positive up until April. But we've seen a stutter step right now, due in part to the BP issue. Are we going to regain that?  We hope so," said Treutel.

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