From the haunting bayous to the lively streets of New Orleans, Louisiana has an appeal that few states can match. But Louisiana’s position along the Gulf Coast and the low-lying areas along its southern border makes it particularly vulnerable to hurricane damage. Because of the risk of storm damage, the state’s home insurance market is facing challenges. Bankrate investigated the situation and spoke with several insurance experts to understand what’s happening and how it impacts Louisiana homeowners.
- Six property and casualty home insurance companies have been declared insolvent since August 2020.
- Louisiana is at high risk for widespread hurricane damage, making it difficult for insurance companies to operate.
- Home insurance rates are likely to increase in Louisiana due to the predicted worse-than-average 2022 hurricane season.
What is happening to the Louisiana home insurance market?
Many Louisiana home insurance companies are rethinking their ability to write coverage in the risky state. The risk in Louisiana has already caused a handful of companies to go insolvent, while the remaining companies have paused writing new business or exited the state completely. This environment is limiting homeowners options for insurance coverage.
Jim Donelon, the Commissioner of Insurance for the State of Louisiana, spoke with Bankrate about the current situation. “We are challenged, no question about it,” he says.
“There is a very hard market out there to get coverage.”
— Jim Donelonthe Commissioner of Insurance for the State of Louisiana
While other states have experienced home insurance difficulties — the crisis in Florida continues to worsen — each situation is unique. Let’s take a look at what is happening in Louisiana.
Why are insurance companies struggling in Louisiana?
So what exactly is causing the nervousness among insurers? In Louisiana, it all boils down to storm risk.
Mark Friedlander, Director of Corporate Communications at the Insurance Information Institute, explains: “The insurance crisis in Louisiana is driven by excessive property claim losses from hurricanes, which had devastating effects for small, regional home insurers that were under-capitalized.”
Donelon agrees, noting that six companies have gone insolvent since Hurricane Laura in August 2020. While losing six companies might not seem severe, Donelon also points out that there’s no way of knowing how many companies have paused their business operations. Hundreds of thousands of policyholders have been affected, and more could follow.
For most companies exiting Louisiana’s market, the reason is simple: the state is too risky.
Donelon notes that Louisiana “had a really long, quiet period of hurricane seasons until 2020.” The home insurance market may have begun to calm a bit after the challenge it faced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Because less damage was happening, the companies may have been able to charge comparatively lower rates and maintain lower claims reserves (the money set aside to pay claims).
But 2020 and 2021 brought four devastating hurricanes in a row — Laura, Delta, Zeta and Ida. These four storms caused $76.65 billion of damage in Louisiana. About 72%, or $55 billion in damage, was from Hurricane Ida, which hit the state in late June 2021. The rapid increase in risk level — not to mention the massive influx of claims — was enough to financially cripple six property and casualty insurance companies. Even companies fiscally strong enough to withstand the barrage of losses may not be willing or able to handle what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts will be a stronger-than-average 2022 hurricane season.
“This has resulted in companies withdrawing or pausing their writing in our property insurance market.”
— Jim Donelonthe Commissioner of Insurance for the State of Louisiana
And it’s likely to get worse. According to the National Climate Assessment, hurricanes have increased in duration, frequency and intensity since the 1980s and are predicted to continue getting stronger. As the risk of widespread damage increases, it could be less likely that insurance companies will want to do business in Louisiana.
Louisiana’s home insurance market operates, in large part, based on reinsurance. Reinsurance is a type of insurance coverage your insurance company purchases to protect itself from the financial risk of claims. Essentially, reinsurance means the less-risky areas of the world are helping to subsidize the ability of insurance companies to operate in more risk-prone areas.
But reinsurance costs money, just like any other insurance policy. Insurance companies are paying more for reinsurance due to the increasing frequency of natural disasters worldwide. Donelon confirmed that reinsurance rates are rising and that insurance companies will likely pass on some of that cost to policyholders in the form of higher rates.
What is being done to curb the crisis?
While all of this sounds scary — and it’s certainly far from ideal — Louisiana is taking action that will hopefully stabilize the market.
Lee Ann Alexander, Vice President of State Government Relations at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (ACPIA), talked with Bankrate about the insurance bills included in the 2022 Louisiana Legislative Session. She says, “[The legislators] have raised the financial commitments that companies have to make to participate in the state to ensure that this type of thing doesn’t happen with such frequency, and that’s important.”
Essentially, this means that insurance companies will have to prove a higher level of financial stability to be granted access to write policies in the state. That makes it less likely that the companies will be devastated by widespread hurricane losses.
What should Louisiana homeowners expect?
Louisiana already has the sixth-highest average home insurance premium in the country at $2,009 per year for $250,000 in dwelling coverage. That’s 45% higher than the national average of $1,383 per year. Home insurance rates are increasing nationwide to keep pace with inflation, and Louisiana’s risk level poses an additional layer of consideration for home insurers as they set rates. Louisiana insurers can’t use past hurricane losses to justify rate increases, but they can use future predictions. With the 2022 hurricane season predicted to be more severe than normal, rates will likely increase throughout the year.
If you are a high-risk homeowner, you may need coverage through Louisiana’s last-resort insurance company, Citizens. Be aware that the company is mandated to charge higher rates than the private market, so coverage is expensive. But for many Louisiana homeowners, Citizens may be the only option for home insurance. The company is also designed to handle the influx of policies during riskier times and works to depopulate these policies back to the private market when the risks lessen.
Nicole Ganley, Assistant Vice President of Public Affairs at the APCIA, also points out the importance of reviewing your financial situation. “Make sure your finances are up to date,” she says. “Make sure your policies are up to date; go make sure you have enough coverage. Inflation is having a huge impact.”
The bottom line
Louisiana has always been a challenging state, even for the best home insurance companies. However, the string of four devastating hurricanes between 2020 and 2021 has pushed many insurers to the point of collapse and encouraged others to voluntarily leave the state.
“I think what you’ll see moving forward is a state that continues, unfortunately, to be in harm’s way.”
— Lee Ann AlexanderVice President of State Government Relations at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association
Donelon is hopeful, though, that the state will be able to attract smaller home insurance companies to fill the void left by the carriers leaving. He understands the issues on an intimate level; he was among the homeowners who lost coverage due to a failing company. “It’s tough; it’s hard,” he says. “But hopefully — prayerfully — we can get through another hurricane season without the events of the past two years.”