NJ Insurance Commissioner: No Post-Sandy Availability Issues

There are no availability issues in New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy, says Insurance Commissioner Kenneth E. Koblyowski.

“That is one of our biggest concerns and thankfully, we still have plenty of companies writing in New Jersey,” Koblyowski tells PC360 in an interview.

According to the latest data from the state Department of Banking and Insurance, 93 percent of the more than 448,000 claims the insurance industry received after the unprecedented late October storm last year have been closed.

Insurers have paid $3.23 billion on 316,801 claims. Another 98,649 claims have been closed without pay.

“This was the largest insurance event the state has ever seen,” Koblyowski says. “I think insurers for the most part have done an excellent job.”

Despite the losses from Sandy and losses paid on claims from other recent storms—such as Hurricane Irene in 2011—insurers are not fleeing the Garden State, says the commissioner.

He says one “canary in the coal mine” is the market of last resort—the state’s FAIR Plan.

“There are no indications that enrollment in the FAIR Plan is increasing [following Sandy],” Koblyowski says. “It’s actually decreasing.”

As of March 31, there were 17,265 policies in the FAIR Plan. The amount has steadily decreased. In 1998, for example there were more than 81,000 personal and commercial properties enrolled in the plan.

“Our response and approach has been to let [insurers] know where they stand,” says Koblyowski. “They may not like it, but there is predictability in knowing where we stand on every issue.”

He continued by also crediting Gov. Chris Christie with a “thoughtful and deliberate” post-storm response that has kept New Jersey a “reliable jurisdiction to do business in.”

In fact, the state has seen a number of new companies willing to write along the coast and barrier islands, Koblyowski says. With new flood maps and homes either built new or rebuilt to updated codes, the commissioner says insurers may be “missing an opportunity to write some very good, high-value property” if they decide to shy away from the Jersey shore.

Koblyowski recognizes New Jersey isn’t the same risk it was three years ago. The state is a riskier place for insurers to do business.

“We’ll have to be aware that this risk will be reflected in rates,” he says.

The state insurance department has received about 3,500 calls from consumers—about 30 calls per day—since Sandy. About 1,900 are requests for assistance.

The commissioner repeatedly commended his staff, others in state government, was well as the insurance industry.

“They were all impacted in some way and in a lot of cases they worked all day and went home to a place with no power and no heat,” Koblyowski says. “And the next morning they’d come in and do it all over again.” 

If the department has a question or concern, it contacts the insurer directly, and a post-Sandy order shortened the duration required for an insurer to get back to state regulators from 15 days to 5 days.

“It’s allowed us to address any issues quickly,” he says. Asked if the department is investigating any company for mistreating policyholders in any way, Koblyowski says sharply, “No.”

Sandy shined a light on some policy language—specifically wording regarding hurricane deductibles. Since Sandy was downgraded from a hurricane to a post-tropical storm shortly before making landfall, insurers were not allowed to apply the deductible although the unprecedented storm’s characteristics resembled a hurricane.

“I was not [insurers’] favorite person at the time,” the commissioner acknowledges of his decision to ban hurricane deductible use. “These types of discussion are ongoing. There is a desire among a number of [Northeast] states for uniformity on this issue.”

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