New study looks at what's wrong with Gulf Coast insurance market

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) – "Residential insurance markets have been in a great deal of turmoil since Katrina. Premiums have increased dramatically," said Lloyd Dixon, a senior economist for the RAND Corporation.

A study released by RAND pointed to rising rates, as much as 400-percent in some areas of the coast, and homeowners are forced to bear more of the risks. The findings were released during a forum on insurance reform, held at USM Gulf Park in Long Beach.

Members on the panel noted that the current insurance system is not working.  However, there's been little agreement on the best ways to fix it. In the study on the insurance market after Katrina, RAND listed four goals to bring about change, as well as the challenges.

"One of the reforms that seem to make sense is to expand the mandatory purchasing requirement of the National Flood Insurance Program to include all homes in a flood zone, regardless if they have a mortgage or not," said Dixon. "We might want to have changes in the tax code. For example, allowing insurers to put aside reserves for future losses on a pretax basis, currently we don't do that in the United States."

Another suggestion is to eliminate the need to buy separate policies. Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor and others on the panel said the solution is for Congress to pass the Multi-Peril Insurance Proposal, which would cover both wind and flood.

"I hope it doesn't come to this. But I suspect it's going to take a major storm on the east coast, where a lot of folks in some urban areas, New York, North Carolina, suffer what we went through, and that's what's going to take to pass this," said Taylor.

"We've got to continue to sell this story to other members of Congress from outside of coastal areas that don't understand just what the National Flood Insurance Program really does," said Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

"It would eliminate the litigation and delays that could result after an event, but also reduce the complexity of reducing insurance for homeowners," said Dixon. "The downside that you have to worry about are concerns that the program would be subsidized, that the federal taxpayers would be on the hook for some of the losses."

Dixon also pointed to the need for a market that encourages competition. Insurance agent Dave Treutel gave some encouraging news: More companies are writing wind policies in Mississippi.

"To me, there's no better place in the nation than the Mississippi Gulf Coast to come back and write," said Treutel. "We've rebuilt weaker, stronger buildings that were destroyed in Katrina, and they've been built back for the most part to the international building code.  That to me is a big plus."

The report also called for incentives to encourage homeowners to rebuild safer and stronger, and for the federal government to set up a national commission to look at insurance reforms.

Click here to read the complete report from the RAND Corporation.

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