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Buyer coalition focusing on natural cat funding solution

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Buyer coalition focusing on natural cat funding solution

WASHINGTON—A new policyholder group wants to influence the debate about natural catastrophe insurance as effectively as the Coalition to Insure Against Terrorism has the debate over terrorism insurance.

But the Washington-based Natural Catastrophe Policyholders Coalition is no clone of CIAT, despite some crossover in membership. Unlike CIAT, which focused first on creating a federal terrorism insurance backstop and then on efforts to extend and make the backstop permanent, NCPC does not advocate a single legislative solution to improving availability and affordability of catastrophe insurance, said Jennifer Platt, director-federal government relations of the Washington-based International Council of Shopping Centers, one of NCPC's original members.

"We do not have a specific policy agenda yet, because we're still working on creating consensus," said Ms. Platt.

"This coalition is made up of groups that are interested in both a homeowners response as well as a commercial response," she said. "It's sort of a community approach."

She noted that current catastrophe insurance proposals tend to focus on homeowners insurance issues rather than commercial insurance issues.

The coalition's goal is two-pronged, according to its mission statement. The group seeks to create a forum to share information and to discuss the availability and affordability of catastrophe insurance in the market and to develop and promote policies to ensure the availability and affordability of catastrophe insurance to both homeowners and businesses.

The group's genesis began in early 2006, when shopping center council members started swapping stories about the difficulty of finding wind coverage in Florida and the Gulf Coast, said Ms. Platt. Members also began reporting insurance cancellations in places far from the Gulf such as Long Island and Cape Cod, she said.

Members of the National Multi Housing Council and its sister organization, the National Apartment Assn., found themselves in the same situation, said Jeanne Delgado, vp-operations and risk management policy for the Washington-based NMHC. "Our members alerted us early in 2006 as they prepared for first-quarter renewals and quickly understood the market for property insurance" in catastrophe-prone areas had significantly changed. "Multifamily property risk managers knew the hurricanes of 2005 would impact 2006 pricing, but the reality was far worse than expected," she said.

"In addition to the significant price hikes, capacity became the bigger issue. Many companies had no option but to self-insure some portion of their program," she added. "NMHC held national conference calls with our members and insurance experts to keep tabs on conditions and to pass along lessons learned from risk managers as they completed their renewals. It became really important to raise the awareness of our risk managers that they were not going into a normal renewal and they had to be prepared. Many of our apartment owners have been forced to increase rents to offset the spike in insurance costs. This is not always an option and certainly not a desired one."

The housing council and the apartment association "are involved with the NCPC because, as commercial policyholders, adequate property insurance coverage at affordable prices is a necessary component to our continued operations," said Ms. Delgado. "Most of the emphasis in Congress to date has been directed toward homeowner relief and not recognizing the needs of commercial property owners. The NCPC will work to ensure that any relief measure adopted by Congress includes the commercial property market."

Earlier this year, "we saw there was going to be some traction on this issue," said Ms. Platt. The organizations decided to take the ad hoc group that had emerged around the windstorm insurance issue and formalize it. "We're looking to try to put the pieces together," she said.

The NCPC consists of a dozen trade associations; Greater New Orleans Inc., a New Orleans economic development organization; and Chamber Southwest Louisiana, a chamber of commerce in Lake Charles, La. "No individual companies are on board yet," she said.

"We are doing a local grass-roots component where we are trying to engage local development agencies and local chambers of commerce," she said. Parts of Louisiana are having a difficulty attracting businesses because of insurance costs. "This is a major obstacle for them," she said.

Representatives of the entities that formed NCPC approached Santa Monica, Calif.-based Rand Corp. to prepare a study of the commercial insurance market in the Gulf States. That study--"Commercial Wind Insurance in the Gulf States"--should be issued within the next few weeks.

Ms. Platt noted that NCPC has taken many of its cues from CIAT, and for good reason.

"CIAT has been extremely successful. To ignore a very successful model would be foolish," she said. "Policyholders need to be at the table--policyholders need have to have a voice."

An outside observer who is not directly involved with NCPC agreed.

"We're supportive of the efforts, but it is a policyholder effort," said Joel Wood, senior vp of the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers in Washington. "The entire coastal insurance political equation is something of a quagmire. All of the major proposals tend to divide members of Congress along coastal vs. noncoastal lines. There have been various insurer-led efforts" on the catastrophe insurance issue. "No slap at those efforts, but the perceived self-interest of the risk bearers has been one factor in the inability to enact any of these proposals," he said.

"One analogy I'd like to draw: In 2001, with the cataclysmic event of 9/11, the insurance industry was utterly unable to enact a terrorism reinsurance backstop. In late 2002, when the policyholders essentially took over the effort, TRIA was enacted. I think a similar analogy can be made here in that this is a very powerful coalition of commercial interests," Mr. Wood said.