End of hurricane season just the beginning
THE ISSUE: Hurricane season is over, but not the danger.
Insurance Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
November 30, 2009
Floridians can start exhaling today, as we make it to the end of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. The feeling of relief, however, shouldn’t lead to complacency. There is work to be done.
While South Florida hasn’t been hit with a damaging storm since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the area still faces dangers. In particular, the dangers of the state’s underfunded Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.
State Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, among others, has been sounding a much-needed call to the Legislature for years to scale down the CAT fund, and not focus all the risks in Florida, which could place the state in dire straits if a huge storm hits an urban area. According to published reports, total CAT fund liabilities top $25 billion, while the fund has about $4 billion in assets.
What this means is the fund is sorely underfunded, and a damaging storm could place the state in fiscal tatters to match the physical devastation. A national catastrophe fund would go a long way toward spreading the risk, but that issue has seen nothing but false starts with national lawmakers in recent years.
Attracting more insurance companies to the state is the ideal solution, but it hasn’t been an easy task. Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty told the Florida Cabinet earlier this month that State Farm may not leave the state’s property insurance market, as had been previously planned. That would help matters, and McCarty seemed “cautiously optimistic” that State Farm will continue to keep some policies in the state, although the company says it still faces the problem of inadequate premiums. An administrative hearing is set for Dec. 18 on the company’s proposed exit plan.
All of which contributes to the instability in the insurance market, and gives the Legislature work to do to lessen the risk for Floridians.
Beyond all the financial figures, Floridians also need to continue to make their homes more hurricane-resistant. While new homes are probably in good shape, some reports claim that over two-thirds of Florida homes do not fully meet state standards.
So yes, thankfully, the state avoided a big hit this hurricane season. That doesn’t mean the storm has passed.
BOTTOM LINE: Florida’s property insurance market needs a lot of work.