Fast-Growing, State-Run Property Insurers Pose Risk for Taxpayers

June 8, 2007

Exponential growth of state-run property insurers of last resort ultimately may shift much of the long-term risk of hurricane-related losses to policyholders and taxpayers, even those who live nowhere near the coast, reports the private insurance industry’s Insurance Information Institute.

By year-end 2006, total exposure to loss in state-run property insurers is estimated to have surged to more than $600 billion, compared with $54.7 billion in 1990. Total policies in force had also risen to in excess of 2 million.

The explosive growth in these plans is attributable to a number of factors, including the rapid rise in coastal development and property values, and the changing shape and role of state-run property insurers in a number of states, according to a new study from the I.I.I.

‘While state-run insurers of last resort fulfill a key role by ensuring that policyholders can obtain insurance coverage, many have morphedfrom their traditional role as urban property insurers into major providers of insurance in high-risk coastal areas,” said Dr. Robert P. Hartwig, president and chief economist of the I.I.I.

According to Dr. Hartwig, this shift of high risk exposure away from the private property insurance market is placing an enormous financial burden on state-run insurers, leaving a number of them operating at substantial deficits. As a result, state-run insurers of last resort may end up shifting the long-term risks of hurricane-related losses to policyholders and taxpayers who do not live near the coast.

“Depending on the state, the redistribution of costs is commonly achieved via laws that allow state-run insurers (which are often the largest insurers in the most hazardous areas) to recover their losses in excess of their claims-paying resources by assessing (effectively taxing) the insurance policies of homeowners and business owners throughout the state, including those well away from the coast and those who have never filed a claim,” Dr. Hartwig said. “In some cases, even unrelated types of insurance such as auto insurance and commercial liability coverage can be assessed.”

“Even in states where the value of insured coastal property represents a relatively small percentage of total insured property values, this does not mean that state-run property insurers are not experiencing rapid growth,” added Claire Wilkinson, vice president, Global Issues at the I.I.I. and co-author of the study.

For example, North Carolina’s $105.3 billion in insured coastal exposure represents just 9 percent of the state’s total insured property values. Yet the state’s beach and windstorm plan saw its exposure and total policy count more than double between 2003 and 2006.

“The insurance industry is committed to working in partnership with public policymakers, consumers and businesses in developing solutions to the formidable challenges posed by catastrophe risks in future,” said Dr. Hartwig.

The full report, “Residual Market Property Plans: From Markets of Last Resort to Markets of First Choice,” is available to I.I.I. member companies (at and to the media by request (call 212-346-5509).

Source: III

Topics Carriers Property Market

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