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Homeowners insurance is getting more expensive in Texas.

Tough times for the Commissioner

One of the most important lessons of the last two years is that having regulators in place does not mean having consumer safety. Wherever you look from the failure of the SEC to police the banking industry, to the failure of the FDA to keep food and drugs safe, to the failure of the Minerals Management Service to prevent the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it's clear the regulators have been asleep at the wheel of a Toyota car speeding out of control thanks to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It does not matter who you want to blame: the politicians who take the money of business and industry to pay for their expensive election campaigns, the leaders of business and industry who want the maximum profit with no accountability, or the regulators who sit in the middle and hope no one will notice they do nothing. The result has been a catastrophic series of failures. And who gets to pick up the bill? Why taxpayers and consumers, of course. Tax revenues are used to bail out the companies too big to be allowed to fail, and everyone who buys goods and services gets to pay a little more every year in prices to keep the wheels well greased.

Why are we thinking about this right now? Well, every US state has a department or office of insurance run by a Commissioner who is supposed to protect our interests. In some states where the political wind blows more to the left, the Commissioners can be crusaders who protect our interests. But in states where the political wind blows to the right, the lawmakers pass weak regulations and fail to back-up the regulators who might want to "do something". A classic example of the problem can be seen in Texas where the Commissioner has been fighting a losing battle with the insurance industry in general and State Farm in particular.

State Farm submitted rate plans announcing its intention to raise premium rates by 13%. The reality has proved rather different with some ZIP codes seeing hikes of up to 39%. Not surprisingly, the Commissioner is angry and has posted a lot of the correspondence on the state website. It seems State Farm thought the 13% increase was justified because of rising costs in the building industry for both materials and labor. It was also concerned this year might see more hurricanes, tornadoes and hailstorms. The Commissioner is also telling State Farm policy holders where to find cheaper coverage. He is fighting what he terms the insurer's deceptions and misstatements. Even the lawmakers have become concerned as Texas now has the second highest average rates in the US for homeowners insurance cover. They are actually talking about giving the Commissioner the power to refuse premium increases!

Let's be clear. There is nothing wrong with an insurance company increasing its rates to cover rising costs. If it believes there will be more losses in the next year, it can raise rates. But State Farm has crossed a line in Texas and even a GOP state can fight back when the electorate starts to complain. As it stands, if you live in Texas, you should check out the Commissioner's website at Texas Department of Insurance for the latest information on the State Farm situation. You should also get the maximum possible number of homeowners insurance quotes to find cheaper alternatives to the State Farm policies.

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