With rates expected to drop, Cat Fund reform a no-brainer
What does this mean for the average Floridian?
Some background: The Cat Fund sells reinsurance to every property insurer selling coverage in the state of Florida. Reinsurance is insurance for insurance companies. Florida law requires property insurance companies to purchase a minimum amount of this coverage from the Cat Fund, and the rest they can purchase from the private reinsurance market. The purpose of requiring insurers to purchase some of their reinsurance coverage from the Cat Fund is to keep insurance prices relatively stable for consumers, as the price of private reinsurance can fluctuate from year-to-year. As such, the Cat Fund is meant to stabilize the Florida insurance market.
However, a potential shortfall of the Cat Fund would be anything but stabilizing. Because every insurer in the state relies on the coverage they purchase from the Cat Fund to pay claims in the event of a storm, if the fund is unable to pay out what it has promised each company after a hurricane, then quite simply, consumers may not get their claims paid in full. On a larger scale, the consequence would be that many of the state insurance companies would themselves become insolvent (aka: broke) or close enough to it that the Office of Insurance Regulation would have to take some type of action.
Needless to say, mass insurance company insolvencies after a hurricane and the resultant inability of storm-ravaged areas of the state to quickly rebuild would have a catastrophic impact on the state’s economy, not to mention the thousands of families reeling from the aftermath of a hurricane who expected their insurance companies to make good on their promises.
This week, a House committee is scheduled to consider legislation that would gradually decrease the amount of coverage the Cat Fund can sell to a level where it could be reasonably expected to pay. Currently, the law requires the Cat Fund to sell $17 billion worth of coverage. It has roughly $8.5 billion in reserves and would have to go out into the bond market and sell another $8.5 billion in bonds to pay out the full $17 billion. However, the Cat Fund’s internal managers and outside firms alike believe that it will only be able to sell roughly $7 billion in bonds, which would leave a $1.5 billion shortfall.
Legislation up for consideration would gradually decrease the fund’s capacity from $17 billion to $14 billion over three years. Similar legislation was filed last year, but was rejected by the Legislature because decreasing the Cat Fund by $3 billion would have required insurance companies to seek that coverage from the private reinsurance market, which is generally more expensive than the state-run Cat Fund. As such, this would have driven-up insurance rates, albeit by just a little more than 1 percent per year. Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott also opposed the legislation on these grounds.
This year, however, private reinsurance rates are projected to continue declining (by a projected 7 percent), which would make it an ideal time to consider right-sizing the Cat Fund. In fact, the aforementioned Ms. Westcott favors this year’s legislation. After running the numbers with the projected decreases in private reinsurance, her office actuary projected that property insurance rates would either remain the same, but more than likely would decrease if these reforms were enacted by the Legislature.
As such, legislators in the House and Senate insurance committees no longer have last year’s hard choice to make between slightly higher rates and gambling with the state’s economic future. This year, the choice is a lot easier: they can secure the state’s economic future without raising rates; or do nothing and continue peddling false, phantom coverage at great risk to the state.
The choice would be a clear no-brainer… if this wasn’t Tallahassee.