Insurance Executives, Regulators Discuss Industry's Future

Monday in Mobile, seven insurance commissioners from around the nation went face to face with insurance company executives to discuss the failings and the future of insurance coverage.

Insurance regulators from those states most at risk from hurricanes say federal help may be the only way to keep insurance available to property owners.

Alabama Congressman Joe Bonner told industry executives and regulators, the struggles of the past two years make it apparent, the federal government will have to help fix American's property insurance crisis.

"Now it is time to fix the leaky roof while the sun is shining," Rep. Bonner said.

South Mississippians know the pain of sky-rocketing premiums, reduced coverage and, in many cases, being dropped from coverage as insurance companies stopped writing policies.

"We want to stay here for our customers. Can we write for everybody? Absolutely not. It is not healthy," State Farm representative David Hill said.

Hill pointed out that his company has paid more than $50 billion in Katrina claims. Despite record industry profits, Hill said the catastrophe of Katrina has left insurance companies unsure about covering future disasters, without Washington's help.

One answer may be federal back up for state programs like Mississippi's windpool.

"Federal legislation that is being considered, HR3355, that bill would provide some federal backstop for state programs in case of a natural disaster. And, quite frankly, we all need to recognize that in some role, by some role, the federal government is needed," Hill said.

Mississippi's Insurance Commissioner agreed, the help has to come from somewhere other than the states alone.

"This going to be solved with a combination of federal and state governments and private enterprise," Commissioner George Dale said.

Dale said federal involvement would not be his first choice to ease the insurance crisis, but there seems to be little choice.

"Now realize that the federal government will have to be involved, because the problem is too big," Dale said.

A vote should come later this week on Congressman Gene Taylor's multi-perils insurance bill. But that legislation differs from the bill discussed in Mobile Monday.

Taylor's bill approaches the insurance crisis from the consumer side by expanding the National Flood Insurance Program to include wind coverage. It also spreads the risk among many states.

The bill is expected to go to the House floor Thursday.