In the wake of a turbulent period for California property insurance companies, characterized by major insurers suspending or limiting coverage, the state’s chief regulator, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, has announced plans to enact fresh regulations designed to incentivize insurance companies to continue operating in the nation’s most populous state.
Seven out of California’s top 12 California property insurance companies, ranked by market share, have either halted or curtailed new policy offerings within the state since the previous year
While state legislators attempted to devise legislation to address this issue, they failed to reach a consensus before the recent legislative session concluded. Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s proposal seeks to introduce changes to heavily regulated California property insurance companies. In 1988, Proposition 103 mandated that insurance companies seek approval from the state’s Department of Insurance before raising rates. Under the current system, insurers are limited to utilizing historical data, and unable to consider present or future property risks when setting rates.
One of the key challenges facing insurers is their inability to account for climate change in rate calculations, despite the rising incidence of wildfires in California. Of the 20 most devastating fires in the state’s history, 14 have occurred since 2015. Additionally, insurers contend that increased reinsurance costs, which they cannot recover from ratepayers, make it challenging to accurately assess property risk. Consequently, many insurers have opted to pause or limit their operations in the state, declining to renew insurance coverage for certain homeowners.
In situations where homeowners cannot secure California property insurance companies, they are compelled to obtain policies through the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan, funded by contributions from insurers operating in the state. The number of individuals relying on the FAIR Plan has nearly doubled recently.
Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s proposed rules would allow insurers to factor in climate change when determining rates and possibly consider some reinsurance costs
However, the requirement for insurers to obtain state approval for rate increases would remain unchanged. To qualify for these new rules in California property insurance companies, insurers would need to issue policies for residents living in wildfire-prone areas, covering no less than 85 percent of their statewide market share in these regions.
While some consumer groups, such as California-based Consumer Watchdog, express fears that factoring in climate change could lead to substantially higher homeowner premiums, Commissioner Lara suggests that these new rules in California property insurance companies could also benefit homeowners by considering wildfire-resistant home improvements and government investments in forest management and wildfire risk reduction.
The implementation of these rules in California property insurance companies, which aims to encourage more insurers to stay in California’s insurance market, may foster increased competition among insurers, potentially curbing rate hikes. The rule-making process will involve input from insurers and consumer groups, with Commissioner Lara setting a deadline of December 2024 for the completion of these new regulations.