State Insurance Commissioner strangely mum about big impending rate hike

State Insurance Commissioner strangely mum about big impending rate hike

- in Progressive Voices, Top Story
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Consumers can still submit comments until December 29

Most North Carolinians don’t appear to be very upset about a potential budget-busting increase in homeowners insurance in 2018.

The reason for that appears to be that most North Carolinians have no idea it may be coming.

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey announced in November that the North Carolina Rate Bureau filed for a statewide average rate increase of 18.7 percent for homeowners insurance.

State officials haven’t exactly hidden the proposal, but they certainly haven’t been going the extra mile in raising awareness of what might be coming down the bend.

Insurance firms say the hike is warranted by their models of future extreme weather, and anyone who watches The Weather Channel has undoubtedly notice the uptick in catastrophic events.

(It’s more than a bit ironic that these forecasts are being taken seriously in a state that was widely ridiculed for a 2012 legislative effort to bar state agencies from making plans for sea level rise).

Regardless, North Carolinians are a pretty savvy bunch, so the lack of outcry over the proposal reflects the lack of publicity surrounding it.

The Department of Insurance website has a prominent notice of the proposal, but offers no explanation of how the state is divided up into insurance territories or a map showing how specific areas would be impacted.

A map of state territories can be found by clicking here and rate changes by territory can be found by clicking here.

Wayne Goodwin, who served as North Carolina Insurance Commissioner for 8 years, said “It is rather curious that the new Insurance Commissioner failed to include in his initial November public announcement either a link to a map showing the proposed rate changes by geographical territory or the comparative summary data chart. When I served as Commissioner it was imperative to include that information for maximum transparency under the law.  Also, without the maps or summary data how could the public meaningfully understand what has been filed by the insurance industry and how could the public meaningfully participate in the December public comment period?’’

Full disclosure: Goodwin is now serving as Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, so partisans may dismiss his comments.

But it’s hard to dismiss how awful this proposal really is. In some areas proposals were put forth requesting homeowners increases well over 50 percent. The NCRB is capping increases statewide at 25 percent for those policies, but if you’re buying rental insurance or are a condominium owner, caps on those policies could rise 40 percent.

For people on fixed incomes, those numbers mean even tighter budgets and less money to spend in their local economies.

And again, those numbers get worse in some areas. Willo Kelly told WRAL she’s afraid the increase could drive people out of their homes in some areas such as the coast, where many property owners also have flood and wind insurance policies in addition to homeowners insurance.

“When you add all of your insurance up,’’ Kelly said,  “it can be more than your mortgage payment.’’

Regulators for the state will negotiate with insurers; if a compromise is reached, it would be up to Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey to approve it. It one is not reached, the issue would be the topic of a public hearing, probably to be held next summer.

This issue is of paramount importance to retirees, anyone on a fixed income or anyone seeing slow wage growth. Couple the prospect of significantly higher insurance rates with looming higher charges for electricity and health care costs virtually guaranteed to rise, and 2018 looks to deliver a nasty triple threat to family budgets.

North Carolinians can do more than simply hope this proposal dies on the vine.

They can speak out. However, time is running short.

“Safeguarding consumers against unfair insurance practices is the responsibility of NC Department of Insurance. Consumer participation in administrative, legislative, and judicial processes is valuable for these purposes,’’ said Steve Hahn, AARP North Carolina Associate State Director. “Unfortunately limiting the ability to weigh in undermines our opportunity to make any problems and concerns known.  That is why AARP is urging people who oppose this major insurance rate increase to act quickly before the December 29th deadline passes.’’

The North Carolina Department of Insurance is taking public comments on its proposal via email or mail until Dec. 29th. Send comments via email to 2017HomeInsurance@ncdoi.gov or mail to Tricia Ford, 1201 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1201.

Jim Buchanan is editor of special projects for the Sylva Herald. This commentary was written in cooperation with AARP North Carolina and distributed by Carolina Commentary.com