Louisiana Lawmakers Lessen Costs for Citizens Customers

By MELINDA DESLATTE | June 8, 2012

A last-minute provision added to legislation headed to the governor’s desk will deliver a price cut to south Louisiana property owners who get insurance through the state-run insurer of last resort.

The compromise was devised by lawmakers seeking to lessen the blow of hefty rate increases on wind and hail policies for customers of the Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which provides insurance to property owners who have trouble getting coverage in the private market.

People with the wind policies could see their rates more than double in bills that started rolling out last week. The average boost for wind-only policies is 58 percent, but customers in some coastal parishes will see increases reaching 170 percent and more than 200 percent.

“It gives them some relief,” Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell, chairman of the House Insurance Committee, said of the language backed by lawmakers.

As sent to Gov. Bobby Jindal, the bill would lessen insurance costs by 10 percent for Citizens customers in 12 parishes across south Louisiana.

Citizens is supposed to charge rates that are 10 percent higher than the private insurers in an area. The proposal backed by lawmakers on the final day of their just-ended regular session would scrap that requirement until August 2015 for the coastal parishes.

“For those 12 parishes, everything else stays the same. We just don’t add the 10 percent to whatever their annual adjustments in rates are,” said Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.

The parishes affected are Calcasieu, Cameron, Vermilion, Iberia, St. Tammany, Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, St. Mary, Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

Donelon said while he didn’t support the provision, he also won’t ask Jindal to veto it.

He said lawmakers assured him they weren’t interested in doing anything that would make Citizens a more enticing insurance company to people. Donelon doesn’t want Citizens to grow larger or become one of the largest insurers in the state, competing with the private market.

“It’s not because I want these poor people to be charged more for insurance. It’s absolutely necessary for us to keep the market of last resort just that,” he said.

Citizens has 107,000 policyholders, according to Donelon.

The insurance price break was added to a bill by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, that adjusted the law governing Citizens.

Treasurer John Kennedy, whose office has a seat on the board for Citizens, said the wind and hail policy increases will mean policyholders in Terrebonne Parish who pay $1,600 for coverage for a $100,000 home on average will now pay $2,500 for that coverage.

Kennedy claims the wind policy rate hike is illegal. He said the law calls for a 12 percent average increase. Donelon and the Citizens governing board disagreed.

“Some would argue whether it’s legal or illegal, it’s inconsequential because people just can’t afford it,” Kennedy said. “Right now, Citizens is the insurer of last resort. With these kind of rate increases for them, we’re going to become the insurer of no resort.”

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