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Homeowners Face Rising Insurance Rates Amid Costly Climate Change Disasters

The owner of this home in Iowa, a state once considered low-risk, was dropped by his insurance company last year.

An image of a large, ranch-style house set in a field.

These houses and thousands more also lost their coverage as some insurance companies pulled out of Iowa altogether.

A photo grid of four homes, ranging from brick buildings to townhouses.

As climate change produces more extreme weather, insurers are losing money, even in states with low hurricane and wildfire danger.

A bar chart titled “Iowa homeowners insurance profitability”, which shows that in the past decade, years of moderate profit have been overtaken by years of loss. A big spike in 2020 shows that insurers paid out three times as much as what they earned.

Across the country, insurers are facing more bad years than good years. If this trend continues, it could destabilize the broader economy.

A series of 8 charts of homeowners insurance profitability in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Arkansas, Kentucky and Illinois. They show many have more unprofitable years than profitable, or that there appears to be a downward trend in the past decade.

At first glance, Dave Langston’s predicament seems similar to headaches facing homeowners in coastal states vulnerable to catastrophic hurricanes: As disasters have become more frequent and severe, his insurance company has been losing money. Then, it canceled his coverage and left the state.

But Mr. Langston lives in Iowa.

Relatively consistent weather once made Iowa a good bet for insurance companies. But now, as a warming planet makes events like hail and wind storms worse, insurers are fleeing.

Mr. Langston spent months trying to find another company to insure the townhouses, on a quiet cul-de-sac at the edge of Cedar Rapids, that belong to members of his homeowners association. Without coverage, “if we were to have damage that hit all 17 units, we’re looking at bankruptcy for all of us,” he said.

Dave and Linda Langston at their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

A tornado in 2018 and a derecho in 2020 devastated Marshalltown, Iowa.

The insurance turmoil caused by climate change — which had been concentrated in Florida, California and Louisiana — is fast becoming a contagion, spreading to states like Iowa, Arkansas, Ohio, Utah and Washington. Even in the Northeast, where homeowners insurance was still generally profitable last year, the trends are worsening.

In 2023, insurers lost money on homeowners coverage in 18 states, more than a third of the country, according to a New York Times analysis of newly available financial data. That’s up from 12 states five years ago, and eight states in 2013. The result is that insurance companies are raising premiums by as much as 50 percent or more, cutting back on coverage or leaving entire states altogether. Nationally, over the last decade, insurers paid out more in claims than they received in premiums, according to the ratings firm Moody’s, and those losses are increasing.

The growing tumult is affecting people whose homes have never been damaged and who have dutifully paid their premiums, year after year. Cancellation notices have left them scrambling to find coverage to protect what is often their single biggest investment. As a last resort, many are ending up in high-risk insurance pools created by states that are backed by the public and offer less coverage than standard policies. By and large, state regulators lack strategies to restore stability to the market.

Where Insurers Are Losing Money

“I believe we’re marching toward an uninsurable future” in many places, said Dave Jones, the former insurance commissioner of California and now director of the Climate Risk Initiative at the University of California Berkeley law school.

Insurers are still turning a profit from other lines of business, like commercial and life insurance policies. But many are dropping homeowners coverage because of losses.

Tracking the shifting insurance market is complicated by the fact it is not regulated by the federal government; attempts by the Treasury Department to simply gather data have been rebuffed by some state regulators. To understand what’s happening in the insurance industry, The New York Times interviewed more than 40 insurance executives, brokers, officials and homeowners in a dozen states, and also reviewed financial records from insurers in all 50 states going back more than a decade.

The turmoil in insurance markets is a flashing red light for an American economy that is built on real property. Without insurance, banks won’t issue a mortgage; without a mortgage, most people can’t buy a home. With fewer buyers, real estate values are likely to decline, along with property tax revenues, leaving communities with less money for schools, police and other basic services.

And without sufficient insurance, people struggle to rebuild after disasters. Last year, storms, wildfires and other disasters pushed 2.5 million American adults out of their homes, according to census data, including at least 830,000 people who were displaced for six months or longer.

Severe Storms Increasingly Dominate Insured Losses in the U.S.

Changing weather patterns are making wind and hail storms more frequent and severe.

Source: Aon

Note: “Other” hazards include drought, winter weather and earthquakes.

“Insurance is where many people are feeling the economic impacts of climate change first,” said Carolyn Kousky, associate vice president for economics and policy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “That is going to spill over into housing markets, mortgage markets, and local economies.”

Several factors are helping to drive the losses in homeowners insurance, including the rising cost of labor and materials to rebuild homes, outdated building codes, and the fact that Americans keep moving to areas that are at high risk of flooding or wildfire.

The industry has seen sustained losses before, including between 2008 and 2012. But experts say the past decade is different because of climate change. As the planet warms and storms and fires grow more intense, the cost of disasters is increasing faster than insurers can afford. A financial model designed for a mix of good and bad years threatens to unravel as more years become bad years.

“It’s becoming an untenable situation,” said Sridhar Manyem, senior director of industry research at AM Best, a company that rates the financial strength of insurers.

Highest-Cost Hazards by State Since 2000

In the Midwest, wind and hail storms have become more damaging.

Source: NOAA Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters

Note: Map reflects both insured and uninsured losses. “Other” category includes flooding, drought and winter storms.

Essentially, insurance companies make bets and set premiums based on damages they expect from historical weather patterns. But global warming has made weather unpredictable, leaving insurers unsure how to price policies.

“Climate change is real,” said Bill Montgomery, chief executive of Celina Insurance Group, one of the companies that has left Iowa in the past year. “We can’t raise rates fast enough or high enough.”

Secura Insurance used to sell homeowners coverage in Iowa and 12 other states, from Pennsylvania to Arizona. On Feb. 1, the company began dropping all its homeowners outside its home state of Wisconsin. Next year, it plans to start dropping its customers there, too.

The decision was driven largely by increasingly erratic weather, said Kristin Heiges, a spokeswoman for Secura. “The volatility has been all over the place,” she said.

Homeowners are stunned.

“Instead of doing what they’re supposed to do, which is serve their customers, they are cutting them loose by the droves,” said Eldon Neighbor, an independent insurance agent in eastern Iowa, who lost his own home insurance last year when his carrier left the state. In Iowa, insurers faced $1.3 billion in losses last year, an enormous sum for a state with just three million residents and a fourfold increase from a decade earlier.

Those who can’t get insurance on the private market are flooding into state-mandated insurance pools of last resort, whose losses are ultimately borne by the public. Federal officials increasingly worry that states will eventually turn to Congress for assistance, putting all Americans on the hook.

Even the insurance companies are having trouble getting coverage. Reinsurance companies, global giants like Swiss Re, insure the insurers, sharing some of the risk of the policies they write. As disasters worsen, reinsurers have become more reluctant to underwrite insurance in parts of the United States. That’s made insurance companies even more conservative about where to do business.

Iowa demonstrates what happens when all these trends converge.

The state’s favorable insurance market began to unravel in 2020, said Tom O’Meara, chief executive officer of the group that represents the state’s independent insurance agents.

Clean-up efforts in Marshalltown days after a 2018 tornado.

Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register, via Associated Press

Years after a spate of destructive weather, many homes in Marshalltown are still damaged.

That year, a derecho, a storm marked by intense winds, tore through the Midwest. It was followed by a string of disasters: wind storms, hail and tornadoes, making it hard for insurers to recover.

To gauge the level of financial distress hitting insurance companies in Iowa and elsewhere, The New York Times assembled data from AM Best, a company that rates the financial strength of insurers, showing “direct combined ratios,” a number that compares revenues to costs. AM Best calls it “a true measure” of insurers’ profitability.

In 2023, for every dollar insurers earned from homeowners policies in Iowa, they paid out $1.44 in losses and other costs. It was the fourth straight year of losses for Iowa’s home insurance market. Reinsurers started to back away.

“Insurance is based on optimism,” said Doug Ommen, Iowa’s insurance commissioner. “You can’t sustain a severe loss every year.”

Severe Storms Are Pushing Midwest Insurers Underwater

Once seen as a haven from climate shocks, the region has suffered growing insurance losses.

Since the start of last year, at least four companies have announced they would stop writing homeowners insurance in Iowa, including Secura, Celina and Pekin Insurance.

Some homeowners lost coverage while still recovering from disasters.

The home of Dr. Brandi Mace Storm and David Storm was damaged by hail last year.

Tim Kuehner’s home near Marshalltown was damaged in the 2020 derecho.

Hail damaged the roof of Dr. Brandi Mace Storm’s home near Des Moines last year. After months of haggling, her insurance company, Pekin, sent a check to cover the repairs. Before she could get the repairs done, Pekin dropped her, along with all of its 40,000 homeowners insurance customers in Iowa.

Trying to find a new company to insure a house with a damaged roof was a challenge, said Dr. Mace Storm, a dentist.

Severe weather combined with the rising costs of rebuilding is “making it unprofitable for us to successfully operate in that state,” said Susan Crisler, a spokeswoman for Pekin.

Others have been hit with sharp increases in their premiums. Tim Kuehner, a general contractor whose home just outside of Marshalltown was also damaged in the 2020 derecho, saw his annual premium jump to $9,189 this year from $6,453, a 42 percent increase.

In neighboring Minnesota, the home insurance industry has lost money in six of the last seven years, and those losses are growing. Insurers there are also pulling back, according to Tony J. Larson, senior vice president of personal lines coverage at Christensen Group Insurance, a brokerage.

Since last summer, 10 of the 25 insurers he works with that traditionally offer homeowners coverage, including Travelers and Nationwide, “have halted or made it near-impossible to place a new homeowners policy,” he said.

Trouble Throughout the Midwest

Profits from homeowners insurance have been shrinking. In most of the region, the industry was unprofitable last year.

A spokeswoman for Travelers, Chesleigh Fowler, said in a statement that the company continued to write and renew homeowners insurance in Minnesota, adding, “we monitor our risk exposure and make adjustments as needed to ensure we are operating responsibly.” Nationwide did not respond to requests for comment.

Other Midwestern states are facing similar pressure. Pekin says it has “paused” writing homeowners insurance in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, citing the increased frequency and severity of storms. Secura is dropping customers in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

The homeowners insurance market in each of those states has become unprofitable, according to AM Best data.

In the Southeast, climate change translates into stronger storms and hurricanes, which means more damage to homes and other properties.

In Arkansas, insurers spent $1.66 last year for every dollar they earned in home insurance premiums. In Kentucky, which was rocked by tornadoes and record rainfall in 2023, they spent $1.67 for every dollar they earned. And in Tennessee, where storms were severe enough in December for a presidential disaster declaration, insurers spent $1.25 last year for every dollar they collected in premiums.

The challenge facing the market “is probably unparalleled in recent decades,” said Kelley Erstine, president of the association that represents independent insurance agents in Arkansas.

High Winds and Floods Across the Southeast

Climate change has supercharged storms across the region.

A struggling homeowners insurance market “used to be a coastal problem,” Mr. Erstine said. “It’s now ubiquitous. It’s found in every corner of our country.”

Kevin Walters, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, said the market remained sound, “despite some challenges.”

Insurance commissioners for Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi, all states where insurance companies lost money on homeowners insurance last year, did not comment.

In the West, climate change has dried out wooded areas, making them increasingly susceptible to wildfires. In Arizona and Washington State, insurers’ annual losses for homeowners coverage have more than doubled over the past decade, before accounting for inflation. In Utah, losses more than tripled.

Wildfire Country

Americans have flocked to high-risk areas even as climate change is making fires more likely.

Matt Child, chief executive of Utah’s association of independent insurance agents, said insurers were increasingly reluctant to cover homes in what he called “alpine Utah,” like hillside towns and neighborhoods around Salt Lake City.

In the wooded areas north and east of Phoenix that are prone to wildfires, like Flagstaff, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find homeowners insurance, according to Matthew Baker, a risk adviser with Strong Tower, an insurance agency in Gilbert, Ariz. “Pretty much none of the carriers will write there,” Mr. Baker said.

The threat of wildfires is also causing insurers to back away from areas around Seattle and other parts of Washington, where Mr. Baker also works.

States regulate insurance markets, with the power to approve or reject rate increases, the extent of coverage and protections for consumers.

Some are trying to make it easier for insurers to earn more profits, or shift more cost onto homeowners. Louisiana and Washington have sped up the process for insurance companies to raise their premiums. Arkansas recently allowed insurers to impose higher deductibles on people whose homes are damaged by hail or wind.

Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group, said state officials must make sure that rate increases reflect actual losses and not projections. “We want to make sure regulators are continuing to base their regulatory actions on data, and not just perception,” she said.

In Colorado, where insurers have lost money in eight of the past 11 years, officials are setting up a high-risk pool in case private insurers start dropping large numbers of customers. Similar plans exist in 35 states and are designed for people who can’t find private insurance. Losses are typically covered by a surcharge added to everyone’s insurance bill.

So many homeowners have flooded into Florida’s state-backed high-risk pool that it is now the state’s largest insurer, with rates that are too low to reflect the risk it faces in the event of a major hurricane.

A home in Central City, Iowa. Insurers faced $1.3 billion in losses in the state last year.

Last month, Dave Langston signed a new insurance policy for the houses in his homeowners group. Finding that policy took three months and four insurance agents.

Other states are focusing on better protecting homes from severe weather.

California is requiring that insurers give discounts to homeowners who install fire-resistant roofs or make other changes to reduce their risk, with the idea that insurers will have to pay out less money as a result. Minnesota has likewise required insurers to offer discounts to people who make their homes more resilient against storms; Kentucky and Georgia recently passed similar legislation.

But most states lack a comprehensive plan to restore the market.

Mr. Ommen, the Iowa state insurance commissioner, said he was waiting to see if the problem persisted. “This has been a challenging year,” he said. “We’ll look at it next year and make an evaluation.”

The industry is likely to rebound by changing its practices: not just raising rates, but also narrowing coverage and exiting certain markets, said Tim Zawacki, principal research analyst for insurance at S&P Global Market Intelligence.

But what’s good for insurers isn’t necessarily good for consumers.

On Apr. 29, Dave Langston signed a new insurance policy for the 17 properties in his homeowners association. Finding that policy took three months and four insurance agents; he signed it two days before his previous coverage expired.

The total premium amount for those homes jumped 43 percent, to $26,500. But that wasn’t the most painful part. Under the old insurance, the maximum deductible for wind or hail damage was $25,000 for all 17 homes. It is now $120,000.

If a major storm were to hit Mr. Langston’s quiet cul-de-sac now, “the high expense would wipe out all the money we have in the association,” he said, “and then levy thousands of dollars on everybody to make the difference.”

“We just didn’t have any choice,” Mr. Langston said. “Pretty soon, it will be happening to everybody else.”

Editors: Lyndsey Layton and Douglas Alteen

Additional visual editing: Claire O’Neill and Matt McCann


Insurance profitability charts show the direct combined ratios in the homeowners sector, which are calculated by dividing costs from payouts and other expenses by revenue from premiums. Combined ratios data was provided by AM Best, based on regulatory filings from insurance companies. The 2023 figures reflect 98 percent of companies reporting.

Direct combined ratios do not include reinsurance payments. Insurers that run an operating loss can still make money by investing their revenue.

Direct combined ratios usually present unprofitable years as having a ratio greater than 100, and profitable years as having a ratio of less than 100. To make the data easier to interpret, the charts in this article use an inverted Y axis, so that unprofitable years appear as negative values, and profitable years as positive values.

Insured loss data from insurance broker Aon include losses from both private and public insurance entities.

Billion-dollar disaster data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reflect both insured and uninsured losses. The direct losses include physical damage to residential, commercial and government buildings, material assets within a building, vehicles, public and private infrastructure, time costs for businesses, and agricultural assets. The estimates capture around 80 percent of the total U.S. losses from weather and climate hazards, according to NOAA’s analysis.

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