State-run insurer Citizens plans some insurance rate reductions

Almost all of the Orleans Parish homeowners who buy coverage from the state insurer of last resort could see their rates drop 6.3 percent if the Louisiana Insurance Department approves.

A mix of rate cuts and increases affect other area parishes.

Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s board of directors voted Thursday to submit the new rates to the department. Citizens expects the new rates to go into effect June 30.

“The biggest driver … is the reduction in the cost of reinsurance,” said Steve Cottrell, Citizens chief financial officer. “If you take that out, the rates would be flat.”

Citizens’ cost of reinsurance, the insurance that insurers buy to protect themselves against excessive claims, is expected to fall 3 percent to 5 percent in 2016, he said. Citizens expects to trim about $5 million from its reinsurance costs.

Citizens’ average homeowner premium is $1,680. The rates vary by area. Homes in coastal areas are typically more expensive to insure because they are at the greatest risk of storm damage.

The bulk of Citizens’ homeowners policies lie in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

Most of Citizens’ Jefferson Parish customers will see their homeowners rates increase an average of 4.4 percent. However, those in the coastal areas of the parish will see rates drop by 6.4 percent. Homeowners in coastal Orleans will see rates drop 5.6 percent.

Average premiums by area were not available Thursday.

Other rate changes by parish include a 2.9 percent increase in St. Tammany; a 4.6 percent cut in East Baton Rouge; a 5.2 percent increase in Ascension; a 15.8 percent increase in Livingston; a 1.2 percent cut in Lafayette; a 4.2 percent increase in Iberia; a 5 percent increase for most of Lafourche, with a 5.4 percent increase along the coast; and a 7.1 percent increase for most of Terrebonne, with a 17.8 percent increase along the coast.

The homeowners rates are part of Citizens’ personal lines rate filing, which also includes coverage for dwellings, or homeowners policies that don’t include liability protection; renter/condo insurance; mobile home policies; and wind-only policies.

Only mobile home coverage will see an overall increase, 6.1 percent. Wind-only coverage, which basically covers hurricane damage, will drop an average of 7 percent statewide.

In 2012, Citizens was basically the only source of the coverage and the only company taking on that risk, Cottrell said. But Citizens made the difficult decision to raise those rates by 47 percent to reach the amount that major insurers charged for the storm damage portion of premiums.

The result is that there are now a handful of private companies offering wind-only coverage, Cottrell said.

In other action, interim Chief Executive Officer Vijay Ramachandran said the company now has less than 70,000 personal lines policies after the latest round of depopulation. During the process, Citizens invites private insurers to request policies. Seven companies picked up 13,245 policies on property valued at $1.8 billion during the process.

Citizens has gone through nine rounds of depopulation since the program’s launch in 2008, with 15 private companies picking up close to 113,000 of Citizens’ policies.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said the department soon will launch a national search for a new Citizens CEO. The previous CEO, David Thomas, resigned in May following a board meeting to discuss personnel issues.

Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr

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