HomeHome Insurance‘No Place to Hide’ as U.S. Home Insurers Slash Climate Risk Coverage

‘No Place to Hide’ as U.S. Home Insurers Slash Climate Risk Coverage

At least five major property insurers in the United States are reducing coverage in response to extreme weather patterns, leaving many American homeowners exposed to natural disasters without essential protection.

Allstate, American Family, Nationwide, Erie Insurance Group and Berkshire Hathaway told regulators that severe weather patterns resulting from climate change have led them to stop writing coverages in some regions, exclude protections from certain weather events, and raise premiums and deductibles, reports the Washington Post.

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Damage caused by hurricanes, wind, and hail will no longer be covered along coastlines and in wildfire country, said some major insurers, responding to a voluntary survey by the U.S. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The poll responses illustrate the ongoing retrenchment of the U.S. home insurance industry.

Nationwide had pulled back as early as 2020, writes the Post. At that time, the company said it “reduced exposure levels in some of the highest hazard wildland urban interface areas in California.” In the regulators’ survey, the company said it no longer covers “properties within a certain distance to the coastline” prone to hurricane risks. “More targeted hurricane risk mitigation actions are being finalized and will start by year-end 2023,” said Nationwide.

The pullback comes as claim costs escalate under the widening gyre of the climate crisis. The last three years have seen U.S. insurers disbursing US$295.8 billion in natural disaster claims, and the first six months of this year produced $40 billion in insured losses.

In the past, insurers were able to spread risk around through the year, by “balancing wildfire risk during the late spring in the Pacific Northwest with hurricanes in the early fall in the Southeast and winter storms in the Upper Midwest,” writes the Post. But in such dire and expensive conditions, that balancing act has become more difficult. Major wildfires and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more intense, and even storm patterns are changing, with America’s infamous “tornado alley” moving east, according to research published in the journals Nature and Environmental Research Communications.

“There’s no place to hide from these severe natural disasters,” said David Sampson, president of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. “They’re happening all over the country and so insurers are having to relook at their risk concentration.”

Such reassessments will leave homeowners twisting in the wind. The insurance survey suggests many large home insurance firms “will continue to offer baseline policies to clients in disaster-prone areas, but without protections for damage caused by those disasters,” writes the Post. For instance, a homeowner in Florida will get baseline coverage, but nothing for wind or hail, while her counterparts in California will have to go without protection from fire or smoke. 

“The same risks that are making insurance more important are making it harder to get,” said Carolyn Kousky, associate vice president at the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund and non-resident scholar at the Insurance Information Institute.

Observers are warning against assuming that all will be well once governments step into the breach left by private insurance companies—as recently seen in Florida, Kentucky, and California. “When you see the insurance companies pulling out en masse because the cost of rebuilding homes in Florida is bankrupting them, it’s either hubris or folly to think the state wouldn’t be bankrupted stepping in to help,” Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous told the Post.

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