NU Online News Service, Feb. 26, 9:44 a.m. EST

Missouri homeowners seeking earthquake insurance may face extremely large deductibles or have to leave their current homeowners insurance company in order to obtain it, a state official reported.

John M. Huff, Missouri insurance director, said in a statement that when it comes to earthquake protection, a departmental survey found there are some “significant shortcomings in coverage.”

His announcement, noting that February is Earthquake Awareness month, advised that his department recently collected data on earthquake coverage from the 20 largest homeowners insurance companies in Missouri.

The report showed several positives, including the availability of coverage and the relative affordability of premiums in most parts of Missouri, he said.

Mr. Huff said his agency found the insurance will cost about $10 per month on a $200,000 home. In St. Louis and southeast Missouri–areas most likely to be affected–the insurance averages about $40 per month.

Missouri contains the New Madrid fault seismic zone which in the early 19th century was the site of the largest earthquake to hit the North American continent.

Mr. Huff, however, said he is concerned about several findings from the survey:

? Deductibles are typically 10-to-15 percent. That means on the $200,000 home, the consumer would have to pay a deductible of $20,000 to $30,000 before the insurance benefits kick in.

? Many insurers require multiple deductibles: one for cost of the structure, and another for cost of the home’s contents. That means the consumer pays as much as $45,000 in deductibles before receiving any benefits.

? Most insurers will not offer new policies on solid masonry houses, and many older houses are built this way.

? Some insurers in recent years have begun outsourcing to a “surplus lines” company for earthquake insurance.

Mr. Huff noted that surplus lines insurers are subject to fewer consumer protection laws and often have no relationship with the policyholder and, he said, this puts consumers filing claims in the position of dealing with an unfamiliar company at a time of dire need.

“The huge deductibles and other issues mean consumers who have faithfully paid their premiums for years could face extraordinary difficulty should a damaging earthquake hit their region,” said Mr. Huff.

“Missouri needs homeowners insurance to be available without undue restrictions, so that insurers can truly come through for consumers should such a life-changing event occur,” the director commented.

Mr. Huff also advised that earthquake insurance policies have become more restrictive in recent years, and he said the department will continue to watch the market for developments.

The top 20 homeowners insurance companies represented more than 80 percent of the Missouri homeowners market in 2008.

Mr. Huff said a list of companies offering earthquake insurance to new customers is available at the department’s Web site, and consumers interested in buying coverage should shop around. Those who already have coverage should talk to their agents to ensure they understand what they’re paying and what they’re getting.