Texas Regulators Order Homeowners Carriers to Justify Rates

March 12, 2007

The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) announced Mar. 9 it will require the state’s homeowner insurance carriers to file and justify their current rates this spring.

This action is taken in light of 2006 loss ratios, recent changes in the Texas market, and carriers’ decisions to exclude risks previously written, the department said.

The combined ratio for the industry in 2006 was an estimated 64.8 percent; the loss ratio was 34 percent. In 2001 the industry had a loss ratio of 116.9 percent and a combined ratio of 165.6 percent.

TDI said compiling rate information is permitted under Texas law, and enables a more detailed review of the market. Any rate review will be based on a multi-year period, taking into account severe weather/hurricane exposure and the need for companies to address adequate reserves for catastrophes.

If a carrier is found to be charging excessive rates, TDI will require the company to reduce its rates. Because risk exposure and policy forms are different, the rates will not be uniform for all carriers. Consumers are encouraged to shop around for the best coverage to meet their needs and budget.

“Our duty under statute is to ensure that rates are reasonable and adequate,” said Jerry Hagins, insurance department spokesperson, in the announcement. “Even when you take into account Texas tornado, hail and hurricane exposure, companies should make sure that their rates are both competitive and affordable. If they’re not, then we have the tools to deal with it. For example, earlier this week a district court upheld a rate reduction order than had been challenged by Allstate.”

Other factors that may affect rates and subsequent TDI actions include pending enforcement actions, rate changes that companies may already have made in 2006, and any legislation that affects the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) or other aspects of the Texas market.

Insurance industry trade groups were quick to respond to TDI’s announcement.

“2006 was not a typical year for the insurance industry,” stated Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas. “We were fortunate that we did not have the violent wind and hailstorms that have been the historical cost drivers for homeowners insurance in Texas and other states that are prone to severe weather.”

Hanna said homeowners insurance in Texas has more often than not been a losing proposition or break even at best. He said a good year like 2006 allows the industry to be better prepared to pay the claims from future losses.

Like any other Texas business, insurers work hard to be profitable. “When they succeed, it allows them to grow their business and be more competitive in the marketplace,” Hanna said. “Insurance is a cyclical business and it is not very often that we have a good year, much less a notable one.”

Jerry Johns, president of Southwestern Insurance Information Service, noted that insurers currently file and justify their rates and being told to do so again is a bit redundant.

“The 2005 Texas legislature enacted an insurance modernization law which allows insurers to file their rates and use them unless they are deemed excessive by the Texas Department of Insurance,” Johns said.

“Profits enable companies to make improvements in way they serve their customers, invest in Texas communities and pay for multi-billion dollar catastrophic weather events. Without profits companies are not only incapable of expanding but over time will lose their competitive advantage and possibly wither,” he added.

Profitability should be viewed over multiple years not a single year. For many years insurers lost hundreds of millions of dollars in Texas, Johns said.

ICT’s Hanna also said that recent profitability has lead to lower rates. Specifically, he said that homeowners and auto rates have gone down statewide every quarter for the past 10 quarters since Jan. 1, 2004. For the past two and half years, the statewide average for homeowners insurance premiums has decreased 10.5 percent. Consumers that shop can find even greater reductions.

Sources: TDI, ICT, SIIS

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