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New Regulations Adopted in CA to Combat Underinsurance in Homeowners' Coverage

Posted on 04 Jan 11

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner announced last week that his new regulations designed to combat underinsurance were approved by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) on December 29, 2010. These regulations are part of a larger effort Commissioner Poizner has spearheaded to address the growing problem of homeowners who find, after major wildfires, that they do not have adequate insurance coverage. The regulations will go into effect on June 27, 2011.

"Early in my tenure as Insurance Commissioner, I witnessed the problem of underinsurance when I toured the site of the San Diego wildfires. I promised then that I would address the problem of underinsurance, and with the approval of these regulations I believe I have fulfilled that promise," said Commissioner Poizner. "Consumers face several complicated choices when buying homeowners insurance and they need reliable and complete information in order to make good decisions. These new regulations deliver on both of those fronts.

Over the last four years, California has suffered through the most damaging consecutive wildfire seasons on record. Five of the 20 worst fires in state history (measured in acres burned and structures destroyed) occurred in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, nearly one million Californians were forced to evacuate their homes – the largest evacuation in the state's history. Approximately 1,500 homes were destroyed statewide that year. Commissioner Poizner acted quickly and decisively by making every resource available to wildfire survivors. In the end, his efforts led to the recovery of more than $25 million for wildfire victims from insurance companies.

Through his direct contact with wildfire survivors, Commissioner Poizner saw first-hand that a significant problem with underinsurance plagued too many California homeowners. Commissioner Poizner set out to address this problem by:

* Working closely with the Legislature to craft AB 2022, which drastically improves the California Residential Property Disclosure Form, making it more accurate and easier for consumers to read and understand. The bill mandates specific language

* that must be provided to anyone shopping for homeowners' insurance, laying out a checklist of the major variables in insurance policies; and

* Brokering a voluntary written agreement with insurance companies following wildfires in Southern California in 2007. After gathering feedback firsthand from fire survivors at a series of Insurance Recovery Forums, Commissioner Poizner personally called upon insurance companies to comply with his proposed reforms to the claims handling process, which led to much improved and more responsive claims handling practices.

Today's announcement represents the third and final phase of Commissioner Poizner's plan to reduce underinsurance. Poizner had previously called for regulations that would provide more comprehensive and reliable estimates of what it might cost to completely rebuild a destroyed home. Such estimates were previously unregulated and led homeowners to believe they needed less coverage than they truly did in the event of a disaster. The OAL-approved regulations:

* Require all California resident fire and casualty broker-agents and personal lines broker-agents, who have not already done so, to satisfactorily complete one three-hour training course on homeowners' insurance valuation prior to estimating the replacement value of structures in connection with, or explaining the various levels of coverage under, a homeowners' insurance policy;

* Require insurers, agents and brokers that provide replacement cost estimates to applicants and insureds to document who created the estimate and the sources or methods used to create the replacement cost estimate; and

* Require that all replacement cost estimates communicated to applicants or insureds be complete, based upon specifically enumerated standards set forth in these regulations.