South Carolina residents pay some of the highest premiums in the nation for homeowners insurance.
And the insurance industry enjoys a rate of profit in this state that is higher than in any other.
If those two facts don’t raise a red flag for residents — and South Carolina’s government officials — it’s difficult to imagine what would.
Clearly, it is time for the Legislative Audit Council to take a look at homeowners insurance and how the Department of Insurance protects consumers — or doesn’t.
The fact that the insurance industry, made a 22 percent profit in South Carolina for 2000-2010 should encourage legislators to recommend an LAC review. The average profit nationwide is 5 percent.
So should the fact that our hurricane risk, often cited as the reason for high rates, is actually relatively low.
And that insurance companies have the capacity to set rate zones by the house, but elect to set rate zones in broad swaths where risks vary significantly.
Our ongoing series “Storm of Money” by Tony Barteleme has made it abundantly clear that the insurance industry in South Carolina has a sweet deal. For example, a 2004 law allows them to increase rates up to 7 percent automatically.
The Legislature needs to reassess the way the industry works in South Carolina, and a comprehensive LAC review would bolster that effort.
Last month, the Senate confirmed Gov. Nikki Haley’s appointee Ray Farmer as insurance commissioner, but only after lengthy questioning by the Senate. Mr. Farmer had worked for 33 years as a senior lobbyist for the insurance industry, raising concerns that he might be more interested in catering to his former employer than in standing up for consumers.
Indeed, in a Post and Courier interview, when asked if home insurance rates in South Carolina are too high, he responded, “... the question is whether I’m getting value for what I [as a consumer] am paying, and I think the answer is yes.”
He also said his goals are to grow the insurance industry in South Carolina and improve customer service.
Chances are homeowners — particularly along the coast where premiums are staggeringly high — would have a different answer.
South Carolinians need champions in state government to tackle the complicated issue of home insurance. A good start would be to recognize that the system in this state needs serious review by knowledgeable — and independent — analysts.
The Legislative Audit Council is the natural choice. In 1997, its comprehensive review of automobile insurance was instrumental in wide-ranging legislative reform.
The results were better rates for consumers and a healthier industry for South Carolina.
The LAC should be given the opportunity to provide a similar examination of home insurance.
There are ongoing legislative efforts to improve the state’s role. For example, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, wants to reduce red tape and provide incentives to entice more insurance companies to do business in South Carolina. He has urged giving homeowners and business owners more information so they can shop around for affordable coverage.
An audit would provide the incentive for comprehensive regulatory reform.
And the prospect could encourage Commissioner Farmer to focus his attention on consumer-related improvements as he settles into the job.