Don’t like rates? ‘Shop around’ Residents get insurance advice

Raymond Farmer, director of the S.C. Department of Insurance. (Tony Bartelme/Staff/File)

Ed Dear is tired of the increasing premiums he pays to insure his Johns Island condominium against wind and hail damage.

“Mine keeps going up about $300 each year for the last few years,” Dear said. “I’m not paying thousands like those in a house, but still.”

He was among a group of more than 100 area residents who attended the S.C. Department of Insurance information session at The Citadel on Thursday.

The annual forum, which preceded the June 1 start of the hurricane season, included presentations by meteorologists, real estate agents and insurance officials.

“One theme we have heard throughout the night is that you as a consumer have the ability to control your rate, and I can’t urge you enough to shop around,” said Raymond Farmer, the state’s insurance commissioner. “If you are uncomfortable with what you are paying on your insurance, shop around.”

The Insurance Department’s coastal forum, which Farmer said appeared to have a larger gathering than in past years, coincided with growing complaints about rising rates for homeowners and flood coverage, especially in coastal regions like Lowcountry.

Insurance companies are cutting liabilities by increasing deductible payments and scaling back their coverage territories.

Flood insurance has been a hot-button topic as recent reforms could raise premiums for the federal program.

In a new study, a team of meteorologists from Colorado State University are predicting above-average hurricane activity this year. Their April report called for 18 systems, including nine hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The Atlantic hurricane season runs through Nov. 30.

Meteorologist Bill Read, former director of the National Hurricane Center, said this year is without an El Nino wind system, which has been known to increase activity.

“We really can’t tell you now what will happen,” Read said at the Citadel.

An updated projection will be released in June.

Several speakers alluded to Hurricane Hugo, with some estimating that if that storm hit the region today it would cause nearly 10 times the $1 billion in damage it did in 1989.

Officials said Hugo’s financial costs remain calculated in today’s rates. Other factors include catastrophes around the world that are pushing up the cost of reinsurance, which is coverage insurers buy to protect against massive claims, and storm models that predict catastrophe and costs.

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Public actuarial consultant Martin Simons said it’s best to learn how the rates are calculated to contest them.

“If you want to go against the rates, you have to know how the hurricane rates are built,” he said.

After the meeting, Dear said he gained a deeper understanding about why rates are rising, but he disagreed with the practice of charging for catastrophes outside the region or state.

“What drives you nuts here is it has been 23 years since Hugo, so we are paying for somebody else,” he said. “Maybe the one point that was being made today is, why don’t you regionalize the insurance coverage ... like you want to live here, you pay for here, not what’s happening in places like New Orleans.”

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550.