Hearing on homeowners insurance hike postponed

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By Sam Hickman

 Brunswick County homeowners will have to wait two more months to find out whether the state’s insurance commissioner decides to raise rates.

N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin announced July 15 that the homeowners insurance rate hearing originally scheduled for Aug. 6 has been rescheduled for Oct. 20.

The hearing is to begin at 9 a.m. in the Jim Long Hearing Room on the third floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 N. Salisbury St. in Raleigh, according to a N.C. Department of Insurance news release.

Goodwin said the hearing was rescheduled to give he and his staff more time to review documents and evidence.

The Rate Bureau, which is not part of the Department of Insurance and represents all companies writing homeowners insurance in the state, has requested a statewide average rate increase of 25.3 percent, varying by territory, with a requested effective date of Aug. 1.

The requested rate changes range from -2.7 percent to +35 percent, and the 35 percent changes could affect many Brunswick County residents and vacationers.

The insurance companies have also requested revisions to the current geographic rating territories.

The insurance industry — represented by the N.C. Bureau — says the 2013 rate increases were inadequate. The latest approved increases resulted in $237 million less than insurance companies wanted in policyholder payments. The newest proposal is a follow-up rate case seeking adjustment.

Brunswick County is divided into beach and inland zones. The new proposal would split the region into three areas: Zone 8 for the coast, Zone 52A for inland areas and Zone 52B for regions farther away from the ocean. Homeowners in Zone 52B, which would include areas such as Leland, Ash and Navassa, would experience a rate decrease of 2.7 percent.

In March 2013, Goodwin signed a settlement agreement with homeowners’ insurers allowing an overall statewide average rate increase of 7 percent beginning July 1. The insurance companies requested an overall statewide average rate increase of 17.7 percent Oct. 1, 2012. The difference between the requested and settled rates amounted to $237 million.

Goodwin ordered that a hearing be held in the matter because the proposed rates appear to the Department of Insurance to be excessive and unfairly discriminatory.

Goodwin said in previous interviews that he was unwilling to entertain any settlement negotiations.

The hearing is open to the public; however, there will be no opportunity for members of the public to speak at the hearing. During a Jan. 3-31 public comment period, the Department of Insurance received more than 10,000 emailed or mailed comments.

About 25 people made comments in person during a public comment session Jan. 24 in Raleigh which was attended by a group of Brunswick County leaders, including Shallotte Mayor Walt Eccard, Sunset Beach Mayor Ron Watts, Carolina Shores Mayor Walter Goodenough, Holden Beach Mayor Alan Holden, Calabash Mayor Mary Knight and Brunswick County Commissioner Marty Cooke.

Experts from the N.C. Rate Bureau, on behalf of the insurance companies, and experts from NCDOI, representing the interests of the public, will present their cases for or against rate changes. Goodwin is to serve as the hearing officer and determine what, if any, rate adjustments are warranted.

The commissioner released findings Feb. 19, noting that in “many instances, the filing lacks the necessary data, documentation and explanations of methodology to meet the Bureau’s statutory burden of proof” for its case that homeowner rates need to increase again so soon.


Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or shickman@brunswickbeacon.com.