State wind pool buys reinsurance

Published 12:01 am Monday, April 30, 2012

PASCAGOULA (AP) — Jackson County board member Mark Cumbest says Mississippi’s insurer of last resort has bought $815 million in reinsurance for the coming storm season.

Reinsurance — essentially insurance for insurers — is a major driver of policy premiums. It protects the Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association from debilitating claims, such as those created by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The association isn’t releasing the exact cost to protect future negotiations with reinsurers, but paid $65 million to $75 million for the coverage, Cumbest said.

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“We obtained the best rate possible,” said Cumbest, one of four reinsurance committee members who traveled to London in January to seek lower rates.

The wind pool covers about 41,000 coastal Mississippi property owners who cannot buy coverage in the open market.

Last year, the board said it paid $69 million for $815 million of coverage. In 2010, it paid $69 million for $750 million in coverage.

Board members travel to London and Bermuda each year to work with the market’s major players and answer questions about the Mississippi coast’s building codes, general economy and progress since Katrina, among other topics.

Reinsurers also consider worldwide catastrophes — tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. — when setting rates.

“Although the cost of reinsurance has increased due to global market conditions, we have found that it is important to maintain these relationships with the reinsurers in order to help keep our cost of reinsurance down as much as possible,” Cumbest said.

“The more comfortable they feel that we are managing the wind pool program properly, the more inclined they are to work with us on the rates,” he said. “For 2012, we are self-insuring $20 million more than we did last year.”

In 2011, the association was self-insured for $51.5 million, he said, but it increased that to $71.5 million this year.

“We are fortunate that we have not had a price increase in the wind pool rates since 2006,” Cumbest said. “Hopefully, rates will not increase, but we will not know for sure until later in the year.”

The MWUA was established in 1987 to provide an adequate market for windstorm and hail insurance in the six coastal counties of Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, George, Pearl River and Stone.