Reducing the risk from hurricane loss through government and private building initiatives would be far more effective in mitigating losses than government insurance programs, according to an industry economist.
That assessment came from Robert P. Hartwig, Insurance Information Institute president and chief economist.
His comments came during a media telephone briefing on South Carolina officials’ insurance market plans.
In the course of his discussion Mr. Hartwig mentioned insurance legislation passed by Florida that he said has been criticized as “fiscally reckless” and has done nothing to reduce the risk policyholders face there.
He said instead of following Florida’s example and making the state’s insurer of last resort the primary insurer, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has proposed a series of tax incentives to help people retrofit their homes to withstand hurricanes and develop disaster savings accounts. He has also introduced proposals to assist low-income families to purchase insurance and give tax credits to insurers writing policies for coastal risks.
He did not discuss the program Florida has, which provides matching grants to homeowners who adopt the recommendations of state inspectors for changes to strengthen their houses against hurricanes.
Mr. Hartwig said the key to both reducing losses and aiding in the recovery afterward is to improve building structures so they can withstand a hurricane.
“When a state or the federal government provides people with incentives to strengthen their home, to retrofit their home and take all sorts of mitigation measures to make their home more fit to withstand the risks we know that home is going to encounter, then not only is the owner of that home better off, but the community is better off and the whole economy of the coast, the county, and in fact the entire state, is better off,” Mr. Hartwig observed.
He said recovery would be faster because structures would still be standing after a hurricane, allowing people to get back to normal more quickly than in the past. The same goes for businesses, which would not be faced with rebuilding either their structures or their client base.
“It is a win, win, win situation for the state if the appropriate incentives are brought into play,” said Mr. Hartwig. “It’s a win for buyers of insurance who will see more availability and more affordability of coverage. It’s a win for the economy of the state. And of course, it’s a win for insurers, too, because ultimately losses should be more moderate if there is serious attention paid to mitigation in the state.”
Like other states, Mr. Hartwig said South Carolina is faced with an expanding population, especially along its coastal shores, which has tripled since the 1950s. He noted that in 2004 the state was number eight on the list of total insured coastal exposure at $148.8 billion, and that figure has probably increased today by 15-to-20 percent.
There is much to be concerned about concerning the risk of a hurricane hitting the state, Mr. Hartwig noted. There is currently an increased cycle of hurricane activity that is expected to last the next 15-to-20 years, and predictions for the hurricane season call for an above-average year with a 99 percent chance that a hurricane will strike the U.S. mainland, he said.