North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue has signed into law legislation to shore-up the state’s backup coastal insurer and reduce the liability of private insurers should a major catastrophe strike the state.
House Bill 1305 also sets limits on the coverage that can be sold by the North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association, known as the the Beach Plan, and requires insurers to offer discounts for storm mitigation efforts by policyholders.
The signing came more than two weeks after House and Senate lawmakers reached agreement on the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Hugh Holliman in the House and led by Sen. Tony Rand in the Senate.
The bill (HB 1305) that is now law is intended to reduce the exposure and prevent a funding shortfall in the Beach Plan, which insures 170,000 properties valued at nearly $74 billion in 18 coastal counties.
The measure was supported by lobbyists for the property/casualty insurers who said it was necessary to provide certainty and stability in the private marketplace.
Momentum for the reform was helped by an actuarial report, commissioned by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), that showed the Beach Plan was seriously underfunded. According to that report, the Beach Plan has no more than $1.5 billion available to pay for hurricane losses. However, a large storm could cost more than $7 billion, leaving a $6.2 billion deficit and affecting the plan’s ability to pay claims.
The bill addresses this concern by capping private insurers’ liability at $1 billion if the state insurer’s funds fall short and providing for surcharges on all policyholders in the unlikely event that there is such a devastating storm that even more funds are needed
Private insurers say the certainty the $1 billion liability cap provides them is important to their ability to properly price policies. Several insurers have stopped writing business in the state out of concern over the uncapped liability.
Any surcharges on policyholders statewide would be limited to no more than 10 percent annually and could begin only after the Beach Plan exhausts its surplus, about $2.4 billion in reinsurance and the $1 billion private insurer non-recoupable amount.
The law also requires the Beach Plan to limit the coverage it offers on residential properties to $750,000 and on commercial properties to $3 million. It now offers limits twice those amounts. Contents of habitational property could be insured only up to 40 percent of the home or building value under the bill.
If the value of the property exceeds the new maximum coverage limits available from the Beach Plan, the property owner must arrange to purchcase the excess coverage in the private market before the Beach Plan can issue its policy.
The Beach Plan’s rates for standalone wind and hail coverage must be 5 percent more than those of private insurers, and rates for full homeowners policies that include wind and hail coverage must be 15 percent higher. The industry had preferred that Beach Plan rates be even higher to further encourage policyholders to buy policies from the private market rather than the more expensive state insurer.
The new law requires the private market, as well as the Beach Plan, to file rating plans including mitigation discounts.
“Governor Perdue has taken an important step today in securing the financial stability of North Carolina following a hurricane or major storm,” said David Sampson, president and CEO of the insurer lobby PCI. “HB 1305 will reform the Beach Plan, protect consumers across the state and improve the property insurance market.”
The law has already convinced one insurer to begin writing in the state. A subsidiary of AAA Carolinas said its decision was in response to the passage of HB 1305.