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Dale approves 90 percent insurance increase

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale on Friday approved a 90 percent rate increase for Gulf Coast homeowner policies provided by the Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association.

The association, commonly known as the wind pool, had requested a rate increase of almost 400 percent as a result of the devastation caused in August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. Dale said a rate increase of that size was unacceptable.

“I regret that wind pool policyholders will have to pay any increase in premiums,” Dale said in a news release. “However, an increase is necessary to maintain the stability of the program. Without the wind pool, many residents would be unable to get any wind coverage due to a number of companies choosing not to write the wind on the coast.”

Rep. Jessica Sibley Upshaw, R-Diamondhead, said she is “appalled” by the 90 percent increase.

“It is going to hamper the coast’s recovery process. I think it is going to keep the coast from coming back in the manner the state economy needs,” Upshaw said. “If we can’t rebuild the houses, we’re not going to have the workers down here.”

Other said the issue will be a priority during the 2007 legislative session.

“Ninety percent is a lot less than 400 percent, but it still will close the doors to some businesses and probably stop some homeowners from being able to build back,” said state Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto.

“With that approval, I believe it’s now imperative that we work harder than ever to see what we can do to try and help keep the costs down while maintaining a market structure,” Moak said.

The Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association was created by the Legislature to provide wind and hail insurance for coast property owners who could not obtain private insurance. The wind pool is funded by assessing all insurance companies that provide property coverage in the state.

About 16,000 homeowners, primarily in the three coastal counties of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson, are covered by the wind pool.

Wind pool attorney Greg Copeland earlier said the number of insured is expected to increase dramatically as fewer private insurance companies return to the Gulf Coast.

Dale said opposition to the rate increase came from policyholders throughout the state who didn’t want to see premiums in their areas rise to compensate for additional wind pool assessments.In an effort to reduce the amount of the increase needed by the wind pool, Gov. Haley Barbour in June set aside $50 million of the federal Community Development Block Grants funds awarded to the state for hurricane recovery. The block grants helped hold down the size of the wind pool increase.

“We knew it would increase some,” Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said.

There will not be any more federal funds provided for the wind pool, Smith said Friday.

Dale said in his statement that homeowners who get insurance from the voluntary market will not be affected.

Under the 90 percent increase, the premium for a homeowner for wind coverage on a $100,000 home would increase from $792 per year to $1,504 a year.

State Rep. Reecy Dickson, D-Macon, a member of a special House committee studying the wind pool issue, said she’s unsure about the state’s options at this point. She said the state and individuals across Mississippi may have to help supplement the rate increase.