California residents, grappling with the aftermath of wildfires, floods, and extreme weather events, face mounting hurdles in obtaining insurance coverage. Kemper Corp., along with its subsidiaries Merastar Insurance, Unitrin Auto and Home Insurance, Unitrin Direct Property and Casualty, and Kemper Independence Insurance, has opted not to renew preferred home and auto insurance policies in the state. Liberty Mutual has ceased business owners’ policy offerings, and Geico closed its sales offices, citing challenges in adjusting prices. In 2023, major players like Geico, Progressive, and Farmers have scaled back or ceased operations in California and Florida’s auto insurance markets due to rising costs. AmGUARD Insurance and Falls Lake Insurance are discontinuing their homeowners’ insurance programs in the state.
This decision is part of Kemper’s comprehensive restructuring plan, a strategic move to streamline operations, reduce costs, and enhance profitability. It reflects a broader industry trend where insurers strategically limit coverage or completely withdraw from specific states due to heightened climate-related risks.
Prominent insurers like AAA, Farmers Insurance, State Farm, and Allstate have previously signaled limitations or exits from the California market. Their rationale often cites factors such as escalating construction costs, catastrophic exposure, and the intricacies of reinsurance markets. Homeowners bear the brunt, facing an 8.8% average increase in home insurance rates during the initial eight months of 2023.
Government and Regulatory Response
Unlike other states, California’s approach to insurance pricing doesn’t allow companies to factor in current or future risks; they can only base rates on past property history. In a noteworthy change, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has announced a shift in regulations. Insurers are now permitted to consider climate change when determining prices, departing from the previous limitation that restricted consideration to past property history. While the intention is to prevent insurers from leaving the state, this shift may lead to increased rates for homeowners, as eight insurance companies have requested hikes of at least 20% this year.
Both the federal government and California’s insurance regulator are taking measures to address these concerns. The Treasury Department’s initiative to collect data from property insurers for climate-related financial risk analysis signifies a proactive approach. Although the state regulator lacks the authority to dictate insurers’ risk levels, it provides valuable resources such as complaint forms and a database of companies sustaining coverage to assist affected homeowners.
Impact on Communities
The narrowing landscape of insurance options echoes beyond individual homeowners, impacting entire communities. On the other side of the coast, Florida and Louisiana are also struggling, with surging insurance premiums forcing residents to leave high-risk areas. The trend of insurers reducing exposure in disaster-prone states, exemplified by Florida, underscores the broader challenges facing the industry.
CSE Insurance Group’s Exit
In a recent development, CSE Insurance Group has joined the list of companies departing California, ceasing policy sales and planning non-renewals starting in 2024. Unlike typical exits, CSE aims for a “soft landing” for policyholders through CSE Diversified Insurance Services. However, concerns linger regarding potential rate increases for affected policyholders.
Regulatory Initiatives and Industry Challenges
The departure of insurance companies from California aligns with Governor Gavin Newsom’s call for regulatory action to address the state’s ongoing insurance availability crisis. Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s proposed new covenant, allowing forward-looking modeling in rate calculations, seeks to entice insurers back. However, CSE’s departure suggests persistent challenges within the industry despite these initiatives.
Impact on Homeowners
Residents in high-risk areas, such as Paradise, California, are feeling the impact as insurance rates surge by as much as 1,039%. State initiatives, including the proposed sustainable insurance strategy, aim to address market failures and assist insurers in adapting to climate modeling projections. In response, insurance companies are opting not to renew coverage for homeowners in wildfire-prone regions. In such cases, individuals seeking insurance must turn to the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan, primarily funded through policies sold to customers. The number of individuals enrolled in California’s FAIR plan nearly doubled in the five years leading up to 2021, and it’s likely increased even more in the past two years.
Proactive Measures in Other States
Amid these challenges, other states, such as Colorado, are taking proactive measures to avoid pitfalls experienced by California. Colorado’s Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway is exploring a state plan by 2025, ensuring a competitive marketplace while addressing increased climate dangers.
Insurance Shifts & Looking Ahead
According to data from the Insurance Information Institute, California tops the list with more than 1.2 million homes at risk of serious wildfire incidents—way more than any other state. To tackle the aftermath of wildfires, it’s crucial to focus on reducing the risk of these fires in the first place. That’s exactly what California legislation is working on—trying to make our state and local areas safer from wildfires. As the insurance landscape undergoes profound shifts, homeowners in disaster-prone regions are encouraged to explore alternatives, such as excess and surplus insurance or state-run programs, to navigate evolving market dynamics. Proactive collaboration between regulators and insurers is essential to ensure the sustained availability of coverage for homeowners amidst the challenges posed by climate change and the subsequent shifts in the insurance market.