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In a world increasingly shaped by the consequences of climate change, Californians have had to face the harsh reality of dwindling insurance options. The state, known for its susceptibility to wildfires and other climate-related disasters, has been working tirelessly to find a balanced solution that not only serves its residents but also addresses the concerns of insurers. On September 21, 2023, California unveiled a game-changing strategy in the form of new insurance reforms, a beacon of hope aimed at improving market conditions for consumers.

The Sustainable Insurance Strategy

Dubbed “California’s Sustainable Insurance Strategy,” this comprehensive plan was spearheaded by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, with full support from Governor Gavin Newsom. It is being hailed as the most significant insurance reform in the state in 35 years. This groundbreaking initiative seeks to bring stability, affordability, and fairness back to the insurance market.

So, what’s in this remarkable plan?

  1. Transition from FAIR Plans: The strategy aims to transition consumers from the Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plans back into the normal insurance market. FAIR plans, often the “insurance of last resort,” can be considerably more expensive than typical policies, putting a heavy burden on consumers. The new reforms aim to restore affordable options for these consumers.
  2. Priority for Wildfire Safety: Consumers on a FAIR plan who adhere to California’s “Safer From Wildfires” legislation will receive priority when switching back to the regular insurance market. This not only incentivizes wildfire safety measures but also enhances the overall safety of high-risk areas.
  3. Insurer Commitment: The plan demands insurers to commit to writing no less than 85% of their statewide market share in high wildfire risk communities. This means that insurers must actively participate in providing coverage to areas prone to catastrophic wildfires. For example, if a company writes 20 out of 100 homes statewide, it must write 17 out of 100 homes in distressed areas.
  4. Climate Catastrophe Models: The reforms expedite the adoption of new rules within the California Department of Insurance that involve climate catastrophe models accounting for wildfire safety and mitigation actions. This forward-thinking approach will ensure that insurers better understand and account for the risks associated with climate-related disasters.
  5. FAIR Plan Enhancements: Changes will be made to state FAIR plans to increase data reporting and prevent bankruptcy in the event of an especially catastrophic event. This will provide a safety net for both consumers and the insurance market itself.
  6. Commercial Coverage Expansion: To aid California’s housing goals, FAIR plan commercial coverage will be expanded to $20 million per building. This is not only a boon for homeowners but also for large businesses in the state.
  7. Rate Filing Timeliness and Transparency: The plan also seeks to improve rate filing timeliness and enact intervenor reform to increase process transparency. This will make the insurance rate review process more efficient and responsive to the changing landscape of risks.

Why Now?

The need for these reforms is underscored by the growing risk of climate-related disasters in California, primarily wildfires. Insurers have been reluctant to provide coverage in high-risk areas, as the costs associated with claims have become prohibitively expensive. To maintain solvency, some insurers have had to increase rates, a process that, due to state regulations, can be cumbersome and time-consuming. This situation has forced many consumers to turn to FAIR plans, which are often more costly.

Insurance companies have stringent requirements to ensure they can cover all loss claims and expenses while maintaining profitability. When an area becomes too risky and costly to cover, insurers may cease writing or renewing policies, leaving consumers with limited options. This is where California’s Sustainable Insurance Strategy steps in.

What’s Next?

The residents of California can look forward to a brighter and more secure insurance landscape as the reforms outlined in this strategy are implemented. For those who have been forced onto FAIR plans, the hope is that they will be able to transition back to the normal market in the future.

The new reforms have garnered widespread support from various stakeholders, including the California Farm Bureau, United Policyholders, Community Associations Institute, REALTORS, and many others. They recognize that these changes will not only bring insurers back to California but also enhance the overall safety and sustainability of the insurance market.

As climate-related risks continue to challenge communities, California’s Sustainable Insurance Strategy stands as a beacon of hope, a testament to the state’s commitment to ensuring that its residents have access to reliable and affordable insurance coverage. It’s a promising step towards a more resilient and secure future for Californians in the face of climate change.