• December 6, 2019

TEXAS VIEW: Federal flood program shouldn’t penalize policyholders - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: Federal flood program shouldn’t penalize policyholders

THE POINT: For too long the program has consolidated risk among too few policyholders.

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Posted: Thursday, November 14, 2019 2:30 am

It’s wise for the National Flood Insurance Program to delay until 2021 a new initiative that would adjust flood insurance rates for property owners.

But it would be unwise to continue pretending the troubled, federally administered flood insurance program has nothing but a rate problem. That’s only part of it. It also has a participation problem.

Lawmakers and flood insurance program administrators had planned to launch the new effort, called Risk Rating 2.0, this year, but delayed it until 2021.

On Nov. 1, a bipartisan group of more than 60 members of Congress signed a letter asking House leaders to delay the start of the new insurance ratings. U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican from Friendswood, was among the representatives to sign the letter.

The new program could lead to increased premiums, which could force homeowners to drop flood insurance coverage or even lose their homes, lawmakers argued in a letter.

That’s no small consideration. The program can’t afford to lose more policyholders. It needs more.

Applying risk to rates is the way of the insurance industry and makes financial sense. But for too long the program has consolidated risk among too few policyholders, with rate increases penalizing people who are doing the right thing by being insured.

The National Flood Insurance Program insures about 5 million properties, but at least 10 million residential structures across the nation need flood insurance. Commercial properties, including multi-family dwellings and business structures, are similarly under-insured.

A study by the American Institutes of Research estimated rules mandating flood coverage were not being well enforced. The report estimated compliance rates to be highest in the West and South — 80 percent to 90 percent — and lowest in the Northeast and Midwest — 45 percent to 50 percent.

The problem is apparent in Texas, as well. About 57 percent of homes in Galveston County were covered by flood insurance when Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017, according to the program. That rate is too low, and it is an anomaly.

The average among counties in the disaster area declared after Harvey was 20 percent. The rate of coverage even among counties right along the coast was generally less than 35 percent; it was less than 1 percent in some South Texas counties. The rate in Harris County, where highly developed Houston floods often and badly, was a dismal 24 percent.

The last attempt at reform resulted in the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which relied on premium rate increases — to better reflect actual risk — and sought to phase out subsidies granted to some policyholders.

The main result of the law was a 10 percent drop in the number of policies, which, of course, increased the amount of uninsured property sitting around in flood zones waiting to be flooded.

Congress in 2014 voted to reform the reforms.

With the delay of the new Risk Rating 2.0 program, lawmakers and the industry should spend the time to create and enforce new rules that incentivize participation. It remains to be seen whether new federal flood maps are going to change coverage rates, but program administrators should do more to require policy participation, possibly by withholding federal help to property owners who refuse to pay for insurance — preferring instead to gamble with somebody else’s money.

Odessa, TX

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