California Insurers Call for Pricing Based on 'Catastrophic Modeling'

Home insurers argue they should be able to base policy costs on modeling that accounts for future risks from climate change and overdevelopment.

2 minute read

January 4, 2022, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

The home insurance industry is calling on California to discourage construction in fire-prone zones by allowing insurers to account for future risks when evaluating policy applications. With climate change causing more extreme wildfire seasons and development pushing farther into high-risk areas, reports Debra Kahn, California insurers anticipate increasingly severe damage from wildfires. Meanwhile, homeowners in fire zones are finding it more difficult to secure policies or seeing their rates rise dramatically, even through the state's last-resort option, the FAIR plan. In October, the state temporarily banned insurers from dropping homeowners in areas affected by recent major wildfires.

Consumer watchdog groups warn that the proposed model, dubbed "catastrophic modeling" and used in every state except California, would defy consumer protection laws, and the state's insurance commissioner, Ricardo Lara, has shown reluctance to change the policy, opting to focus on a "consumer-oriented" approach that protects homeowners from exorbitant rate hikes. State politicians are similarly hesitant to dictate where development can happen, citing concerns that restrictions on construction could worsen the state's housing shortage.

But some experts warn that increased reliance on the FAIR program for the highest-risk homeowners could put an undue burden on taxpayers, much like FEMA's beleaguered flood insurance program. In Florida, which experiences frequent hurricanes and flooding, regulations on the insurance industry tie insurance to "more-stringent building codes, with incentives for going beyond the standards to install the sturdiest doors and windows" to reduce risks.

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