Initiative to lower insurance premiums gaining traction, leaders say

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Initiative to lower insurance premiums gaining traction, leaders say

By GRANT MARTIN
gmartin@islandpacket.com
Published Monday, August 20, 2012   |  740 Words  |  

It's been a quiet hurricane season so far.

With no major systems affecting Beaufort County since Tropical Storm Alberto hovered offshore for a few days in May, the only inclement weather has come from booming but relatively benign afternoon thunderstorms.

The absence of destructive weather is cause for celebration among coastal residents, and it's a source of vindication for Beaufort resident Daryl Ferguson.

In late May, Ferguson and five other businessmen and civic leaders wrote Gov. Nikki Haley, asserting that South Carolina homeowners were paying higher-than-necessary insurance premiums based on an inflated estimate of the risk of a hurricane.

The coalition's efforts have gained traction statewide, but Ferguson remains frustrated he hasn't had the opportunity to pitch his thoughts and research to the governor in person.

"Of course I'm surprised there's been no meeting yet; I understand she's been campaigning and working on the budget," he said. "But our overall base of support is growing."

In June, Gov. Haley pledged to examine the issue during a stop in Beaufort to stress hurricane awareness.

"I think it's something we have to continue to look at, so you're going to see us continue to work on that over the summer and try to engage the General Assembly with it in January," she said. An attempt Friday to reach her office for a statement was unsuccessful.

THE IMPACT

In Beaufort County, the average premium for a home insured for $150,000 is about $1,840 a year, according to a Charleston Post and Courier study.

Statewide, premiums have risen 71 percent during the last decade and are nearly three times higher than they were in 1996.

Ferguson says those rates aren't in line with what he calls "the safest coast in the South," and his group's plan to amend them is a response to a plea Haley made upon taking office.

"She asked the business community upon her inauguration to step up and offer ideas to make the state more competitive," he says. "We took her seriously."

Ferguson says lower premiums could jump-start the local economy -- potentially contributing $500 million annually between Charleston and Savannah and creating 2,000 to 3,000 jobs.

And he's not alone.

Hilton Head Island Realtor Andy Twisdale says high premiums have become an increasing source of concern for those thinking of retiring to the area or buying a second home.

"I got a call recently from an attorney in Chicago," Twisdale said. "He said, 'I've been looking to move there for five years and your insurance rates are the reason I haven't.'"

Twisdale called Ferguson's data "exquisite and well-detailed," adding the state has not experienced a significant hurricane since the 1850s.

Twisdale said he intends to address the issue with local Realtors' associations and those in Charleston and Myrtle Beach in the weeks to come.

A GROWING CHROUS

John Robinson, president of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors, agreed the issue demands further investigation.

"The cost of property insurance in Beaufort County and South Carolina, and the insurance laws and costs to property owners is a concern to all residents," he said. "The Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors certainly supports potential studies on this matter."

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, says the growing chorus for insurance rate reform stems from a fundamentally reasonable demand.

"Beaufort and Charleston counties have three times less risk than places along the Gulf, but their premiums are three times higher," he said. "The problem is, our state Department of Insurance has been accepting at face value the results of private companies' data models."

He says he hopes to spark discussion of the matter when the legislature reconvenes in January.

"It's not necessarily ambitious when you look at the political path forward," he said. "All we're asking (the state Department of Insurance) to do is justify these rate increases."

Related content:

Beaufort County business leaders write Haley to try to lower home insurance rates, June 7, 2012

Haley stresses hurricane preparedness during Beaufort County stop, June 8, 2012