Insurance Commissioner says special session may be needed for insurance crisis

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — This week another insurance company accelerated its pull out of Louisiana. With United Property and Casualty Insurance Company closing up shop by the end of May, that marks 23 companies in the last couple of years that have left thousands of Louisiana homeowners in the lurch.

Louisiana’s Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon believes the state is in a crisis. Louisiana has had repeated brutal hurricane seasons that left companies unable to pay their claims. After Ida seven companies went insolvent leaving an estimated $800 million of unpaid claims according to Donelon. 

“Our crisis is a crisis born of Laura, Delta, Zeta, and Ida,” Donelon said.

Many companies are based in Florida, which is faced with an even more severe situation. With the vast damage from Hurricane Ian this year, it is expected to have an impact across the coast. With Florida’s struggles and high-cost storms in recent years, companies have also raised their rates to record highs for some across south Louisiana.

Donelon said he wants to fix the issue by pushing for more companies to start writing policies in Louisiana. He believes the best way to do so is with a cash incentive. An incentive fund was created in the last legislative session, but no money was put into it. Donelon is asking the money committees to move $15 million into the account. The money comes from a surplus in the Department of Insurance budget. Donelon said a special session of the legislature might be needed to sort it out.

“I spoke to the Speaker this morning and to Commissioner [Jay] Dardenne yesterday about the need to get our incentive program that was so successful in depopulating citizens after Katrina and Rita,” Donelon said.

Louisiana Citizens is the insurer of last resort, which by law must be the most expensive option. Currently, there are around 128,000 people on their books that are in need of new policies.

A major issue of the Louisiana-based companies that went under after Hurricane Ida was the companies not having enough reinsurance, which is insurance for the company should there be a particularly expensive year of claims. Donelon supported legislation that requires a higher payment from the company to do business here to incentivize them to invest in reinsurance.

“It’s designed for the ownership of the company to have more skin in the game if you will, more of their own money at risk,” Donelon said.

Insurance companies will often determine how much reinsurance to buy based on how bad catastrophe models are projecting a season to be. The 2021 season blew the models out of the water. Donelon said there are efforts in the works to have better checks in place on the companies’ models.

Higher reinsurance means higher rates, so in the meantime, it won’t be cheaper for policyholders. Donelon hopes with more competition it will balance out.

With more powerful storms becoming more common, some feel the issue will only get worse for the Gulf Coast. For now, lawmakers are searching for a solution.

When asked, Donelon said he will run for re-election in 2023. He said he has been too busy with insurance issues to focus on the campaign lately.