State Farm bumps rate for Gulf Coast policyholders

AP News
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Posted: Dec 01, 2009 9:16 AM

Mississippi's largest insurer is getting nearly a 20 percent wind insurance rate increase for Gulf Coast policyholders, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said Monday.

Chaney said he had approved a 19.5 percent increase for the wind portion of State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. homeowners' policies in the region that's still rebuilding more than four years after Hurricane Katrina. State Farm had proposed a 45 percent rate hike. Chaney said the proposed increase was "way too high."

The rate changes won't go into effect until February or March, Chaney said, "but the reason I went ahead and announced this now is that I don't want people to wait until February to try to find wind coverage."

State Farm spokeswoman Holly Anderson didn't immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Chaney warned that since the company didn't get the full 45 percent increase request, it could terminate some wind coverage policies. Chaney said his department has no legal authority to prevent the termination of wind coverage by companies.

"I have very grave concerns that State Farm may review wind coverage and non-renew or terminate existing wind coverage, which may force some consumers into the state-run wind pool," he said.

State Farm is the largest insurer in Mississippi. Chaney said the company has about 26,000 policies in coastal Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, which were hit by Katrina in 2005.

"I would have preferred that there be no rate increases at this time, but our role is to make sure the rates requested are not excessive and are justified and actuarially sound," Chaney said.

The Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association, also known as the wind pool, was created to be the insurer of last resort. Before Katrina, the wind pool had 16,000 policies. Now, it has almost 43,000.

Chaney said he'll ask lawmakers to approve $20 million in state funding next year to help keep wind pool rates stable.

Overall, State Farm's rates in Mississippi have increased by 10 percent this year, Chaney said.

"My agency has been very aggressive in regulating insurers but more rate increases from other insurers could be coming soon. This is not the end of it," Chaney said.

State Farm already has stopped writing new homeowners' wind policies in the three coastal counties, he said.