Analysis: Insurance race has hefty issues for coast, but very few solutions


September 27, 2006 at 2:35 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

BATON ROUGE -- In separate interviews this week, The St. Charles Herald-Guide asked the front-running Republican candidates for insurance commissioner what they would specifically do about the scarcity of home insurance in coastal Louisiana, the perceived ineffectiveness of the Insurance Rating Commission and the fledgling Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

In most cases, the follow-up answers were linked to the weather, Congress, the Legislature or other external factors unrelated to the leadership ability of the candidate.

For instance, when it comes to the Insurance Rating Commission, the government agency that has veto power over rate increases of more than 10 percent, both men looked elsewhere for change.

The IRC has fallen under heavy criticism in recent years for its political appointees and special authority — it’s the only board of its kind in the nation.

"That is a decision for the Legislature to make," said current Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, R-Metairie, adding there is no reason to change the IRC.

State Sen. James David Cain, R-Dry Creek, on the other hand, said he would work to abolish the IRC, even though he voted against such an initiative as a state senator.

But don’t expect him to act on it swiftly; he’s "hoping it will be an issue during the next governor’s election."

"The insurance commissioner likes it because he can hide behind it," said Cain. "Let the buck stop with me."

As for convincing more insurance companies to return to Louisiana and start writing policies again, Donelon said the most important thing for the state is to make it safely through the next few hurricane seasons.

"That will begin softening the market," Donelon said.

Aside from that, he said he would travel the nation telling insurance companies to "come to our marketplace because it is a viable place to do business with a fair and balanced regulatory scheme."

Cain pointed to his ethics plan, which would create new positions in the department, like inspector general and complaint resolution officer. The plan also calls for a consumer advisory board and toll-free fraud hotline.

"This department has the worst reputation of any other department in Louisiana," Cain said. "We need to change that. People will see we’re changing and insurance will become more available."

Both men tout the benefits of a regional or statewide "catastrophe fund" to help the situation, but that is largely in the hands of Congress. A similar fund was established in Florida following Hurricane Andrew to sustain insurance claim-coverage capacity in the aftermath of a disaster. It serves as a reinsurance program that reimburses insurers for a portion of catastrophic hurricane losses.

The catastrophe fund was also noted by Donelon as a potential solution to the dilemma with the Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state’s insurer of last resort.

It incurred a debt of more than $1 billion following last year’s hurricane season and a resulting assessment is forcing consumers around the state to pick up the tab. Its solvency is in question and consumers are complaining about slow payoffs.

Cain suggested Citizens should become more like a real corporation, with a board of directors made up of professional insurers, CPAs and other industry representatives.

This election is scheduled for Saturday, with a run off as needed on Nov. 7.

Contact Jeremy Alford at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.




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