Push for lower insurance rates
The first step in correcting South Carolina’s inflated property insurance rates was to recognize that there is a problem, and it’s not just whining property owners. The Post and Courier’s Tony Bartelme detailed those problems in his award-winning series of stories called “Storm of Money.”
Now it’s time to fix things, and a panel of experts is working on a report for the state Department of Insurance pointing to flawed methods for establishing rates. South Carolina has some of the highest home insurance rates in the nation. Many coastal homeowners pay more for insurance than property taxes.
Agency director Ray Farmer said he wasn’t surprised by the panel’s preliminary report, but he should be concerned. And he should be determined to act on information when it is complete.
The panel’s early findings show some of the same problems that Mr. Bartelme reported — that insurers have used incomplete or irrelevant data that skew predictions of potential storm damage and lead to high rates.
For example, insurers factor in tropical storms and tropical depressions when they predict losses. Doing that can indicate that the potential for catastrophic damage is greater than it really is.
The panel also criticized insurers who use five-year predictions. The experts say such short-term models overstate potential losses and have been used by insurers to inflate rates.
A third recommendation from the panel was for insurers to use better data about whether buildings have been built to stricter engineering codes.
The Department of Insurance released parts of the preliminary report, and has scheduled a public hearing about the final report on Oct. 9. If the department really wants to hear from the public, it should schedule a hearing on the coast.
The language and structure of the insurance industry is complex and can discourage people from speaking up for themselves. But people can make their voices heard simply by telling some of their horror stories about rates and service.
Members of the Legislature, including Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, made it clear in January that they think insurance rates are out of whack, particularly in the Lowcountry.
They grilled Mr. Farmer during his confirmation hearings as head of the insurance department. A former lobbyist for the insurance industry, he had expressed the dubious opinion that the rates were not inflated.
Mr. Farmer later said he would make it a goal to increase competition that would lower rates. Improving the outlook for consumers is an essential part of his job — or should be.
Staggering property insurance rates can’t be good for drawing new businesses to South Carolina and reducing the unemployment rate.
And it’s a hardship for property owners whom the Department of Insurance is supposed to serve.