Area officials fight insurance rate increases

Published 7:19 am Thursday, March 5, 2009

By Staff
Commissioner sees common ground on many issues
Staff Writer
Advocates from coastal counties and the state’s insurance commissioner insist they want the same thing — lower rates for consumers.
He was in Washington on Monday to meet with NC 20, a nonprofit group that lobbies for property owners in 20 counties covered by Coastal Area Management Act regulations. NC 20 has linked with a lobbying firm and hopes the Legislature will stay proposed increases in homeowners’ insurance rates in coastal counties.
Legislators from coastal counties have organized into a caucus as a result of the effort to stay the increases.
At its Monday meeting, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the increases.
The increases would apply to both state-mandated insurance pools — the Beach Plan and the wind pool — that are intended to serve as insurers of last resort and to the rates private insurers use as guidelines.
The rates differ from district to district, with rates reflecting the risks insurers face in each district. While each county affected by CAMA falls into one of several districts, County Manager Paul Spruill said those district assignments are too often used to suggest that residents inside CAMA areas should be governed by a set of regulations unique to them.
CAMA was originally intended as a land-use planning tool, he said.
Beaufort County would see a 6.5 percent increase in rate caps under the plan. Mainland Hyde County would see a 22 percent jump.
Goodwin and NC 20 officials said that a more-transparent process and more public input will help the insurance-rate process in North Carolina. Goodwin, who was elected in November and took office in January, said he has concrete plans to help reach those goals, including more public meetings. Goodwin also emphasized the increases were approved before he took office.
The two main differences between the commissioner and NC 20 are a stay in insurance rates and insurance commission reform.
NC 20 wants both. The rate stay will give the group time, members hope, to study the process and recommend reforms.
Goodwin said the rate-increase stay is just a quick fix without a permanent solution that works.
Some worry that granting the stay could push some insurance companies out of North Carolina.
Goodwin argues that an insurance commission set up the way NC 20 wants — like the state’s Utilities Commission — would be a bad idea.
NC 20 officials believe a utilities commission-style setup would allow greater public input and judicial appeals.
He added later, “They’re going to wind up being appointees who are pawns of the insurance industry.”