BY LEON STAVRINAKIS

Have you opened your mail from your homeowner’s insurance company lately? Have you seen the premiums you are being charged? Take a look and I think you will share my concern and alarm.

South Carolina has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest property insurance rates of any coastal state in the country. Not by a little, but by a lot. It may surprise you to know that according to the Government Weather Services, South Carolina is not considered a “high-risk state” for hurricanes. In fact, we are actually considered a “low-risk state” for hurricanes, which means that our insurance rates should be right around the national average.

But our insurance rates are not even near the national average. As a state, South Carolina has become the nation’s cash cow for big insurance company profits. The insurance industry socks away a 22 percent rate of return in our state, while the national average is around 5 to 10 percent. Adding insult to injury, these profits came during the national economic down turn.

Why is South Carolina the insurance industry’s cash register?

It’s simple — because they can get away with it.

Our current governor, Nikki Haley, has treated your Department of Insurance as an advocate for big insurance companies. She has put in place insurance commissioners who are not from the consumer protection, premium-payer advocate side of the market.

Instead they are insurance company insiders. Your insurance commissioner is supposed to protect and represent the people who pay the premiums for fair coverage, not kowtow to the industry’s wishes.

The state Senate is currently deliberating the confirmation of Gov. Haley’s handpicked choice to be the state’s new insurance commissioner, Ray Farmer. The governor’s pick for this job, Mr. Farmer, is a longtime lobbyist for the insurance industry — a 40-plus-year career.

This past week saw a Senate hearing room stacked full of representatives from the insurance industry clamoring to tell lawmakers that their own lobbyist should be the official that regulates their industry.

S.C. taxpayers should be outraged.

This coming week the Senate stands at a crossroads. Does the state continue with this current and expensive practice? Does it confirm Gov. Haley’s nominee, a big insurance lobbyist to regulate the industry he has represented for decades?

Do we want to continue charging taxpayers more than our neighboring states? Or should we start looking out for property owners?

Personally, I am tired of these inflated premiums. South Carolina property owners deserve a better deal than we are currently getting. We deserve an insurance commissioner who will be an advocate for consumers, not look out for big insurance companies who are already swimming in profits.

We deserve a commissioner who will stand up to the big insurance companies and keep this complex marketplace competitive for us.

What we are getting now amounts to property owners paying premiums on our henhouse and our governor appointing the fox to guard us.

We need a change. We need to have this important consumer protection position popularly elected by South Carolina voters. We need to have an advocate truly accountable to the people of South Carolina and we need to prevent the insurance companies from rigging the game for their benefit.

Call your state senators.

Let them know we need a fair, competitive insurance market.

Let them know we need a voice that will challenge the insurance industry.

Let them know we need an independent voice who will represent the best interest of property owners — not the insurance companies and their profits.

Leon Stavrinakis, a Democrat, represents District 119 (Charleston County) in the S.C. House.