Jim Beam column:Can Temple solve problems?
Published 6:53 am Saturday, November 18, 2023
The high cost of property insurance continues to be a major problem for Louisiana homeowners and businesses. Are conditions going to improve after a new state insurance commissioner takes office on Jan. 8?
Republican Tim Temple is his name and Stephanie Grace, a columnist with The Advocate, confronted him with some serious questions in a wide-ranging interview.
The newspaper in an earlier story interviewed Erin Lorio and her husband, a Mandeville couple who have lived in the same house since just after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Their experience explains what they and other homeowners are going through.
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Insurance rates were never a major source of concern for the Lorios until last year. That is when their insurance company that was providing them with wind and hail coverage for about $2,600 a year sent them a letter saying they weren’t writing policies in Louisiana.
The company became one of 12 to go under, which Lorio said set off a “mad scramble” to obtain coverage. The state-backed Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was their only option and its premium was $4,800. Citizens has to charge premiums 10% higher than private companies.
The next year Citizens quoted a rate of nearly $8,600 — more than triple what they had been paying the other company. Lorio said it was a complete shock but they found a policy with USAA for about $6,800, still much higher than what they had been paying.
Lorio said, “I feel very fortunate we can ride this out. I know a lot of people can’t.”
State officials have been trying to push people off Citizens, but its 140,000 policies are at their highest point since 2008.
When asked why companies are reluctant to insure homes in Louisiana, Temple told Grace, “As I travel and engage with stakeholders, I’m trying to reinforce the concept that insurance companies do not have to do business in the state of Louisiana.”
If a company decides to come to the state, Temple said, they want to know about the regulatory framework.
“Is there a Department of Insurance that helps insurance companies and consumers, or is it one that is more aggressively tilted toward consumer protection to the point where it’s unfriendly to the industry?” Temple asked.
Then they have to look at the legal environment, he said, and Louisiana is an undesirable state from both standpoints.
“That’s not just Tim Temple’s opinion,” he said, “it’s confirmed by having conversations with insurance companies and reinsurance writers.”
So how does he approach his job? Grace asked.
“My philosophy is that as commissioner of insurance, I work for the people of Louisiana to help make insurance available, affordable, and accountable,” Temple said. “But in order to do that I have to work with the industry — not for the industry, with the industry.”
Temple said he wasn’t going to ask the Legislature to remove Louisiana’s three-year rule that bars insurance companies from dropping property owners after three years. However, he said, “We’re the only state in America that has that law. If it was the end-all-be-all consumer protection law that it’s been touted as for the last 17 years, then you would have seen a lot of other states adopt it.”
Then, there were these comments about building along the Gulf Coast. Temple said persons who want to build there have to know upfront it may cost them more to build a house on the Gulf Coast than it does to build in Alexandria, Louisiana.
Temple said, “I know people are saying I’m anti-consumer because of some of the things I want to suggest. But at the end of the day, this office is for consumers. It is consumer protection. It’s just my version of consumer protection is you having choice and ability to go to another carrier, if you don’t like the pricing, or the policy, or the way you’re treated. I believe that’s the best consumer protection.”
The fact that many companies quit writing insurance policies in Louisiana and that the state had to offer millions of dollars to get companies to come here is a signal that some things have to change.
Temple may have some solutions for the high cost of property insurance that we may not like. However, the fact he wants to speed up claims and get money to people more quickly is a good move.
Since he is going to be the commissioner for the next four years, we will just have to wait and see what else he has to offer.