The state-backed home insurance provider of last resort for most Vineyarders is called the FAIR plan, but most Island residents readily complain that their ever-increasing premiums and deductibles are anything but fair.
In fact, at a special public forum at the Tisbury Senior Center on Monday, many Vineyarders were crying foul about their FAIR plan rates.
“It used to be that the insurance companies would spread the risk around as much as possible, but that’s not what the FAIR plan has done. If anything they are targeting people in areas like Cape Cod and the Vineyard to supplement their losses in other parts of the country,” said one particularly vocal man who declined to identify himself.
The meeting may have been cathartic for some Vineyard homeowners, who for the first time had a target for their anger in John Golembeski, the president and chief executive of the Massachusetts Property Underwriting Association, also known as the FAIR plan.
The FAIR plan was created by the state legislature in 1968 to provide insurance for people unable to obtain coverage on the private market. In recent years, however, nearly all Island residents have been forced into the plan as private insurance companies have stopped covering the area, citing the possibility of devastating hurricane losses.
Last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the FAIR plan’s 2005 rate increases, which included an annual increase of as much as 25 per cent for cities and towns across Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts. Meanwhile, another increase to the FAIR plan rates — which could mean a further 25 per cent increase for many Island homeowners — is now under review by state insurance commissioner Nonnie Burnes.
Monday’s forum was sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Insurance Agency, Lambert Insurance Agency, and the Dukes County commissioners. It was also attended by Cape and Islands state Rep. Eric T. Turkington. But the focus of the meeting was clearly Mr. Golembeski, who adeptly fielded questions.
Mr. Golembeski said that the FAIR plan aims to have as few customers as possible. It is required by state law to accept and underwrite applicants rejected on the private market. He explained the FAIR plan is not a state entity but a union of all licensed Massachusetts agents and brokers who are required by state law to pay into the fund.
“The insurance companies have to pay into the FAIR plan; they have no choice. We’re like a safety valve. The bottom line is . . . we really don’t want to be in this business, we want to get out,” he said.
Mr. Golembeski said the FAIR plan has lost approximately $73 million since 1973, but had started turning a profit in recent years because of changes to computer models used to predict the likelihood of major storms and hurricanes.
He said these models were used to justify the 25 per cent increase to FAIR plan rates in 2005, and he was confident they would help push through the additional 25 per cent increase under review.
“It used to be [insurance companies] would set rates based on the past . . . now they set rates based on predictions,” Mr. Golembeski said.
Many in the audience questioned the accuracy of the computer models when New England has not been hit by a major hurricane since 1938.
“In the past insurance companies had to show losses to justify increases, and here you are saying [the FAIR plan] is showing a profit. And you’re basing these numbers of storm models that nobody has ever seen,” said one man in the audience.
Mr. Turkington also criticized the models, noting they are created by companies hired by the insurance companies.
“The emperor has no clothes here; nobody seems willing to admit the evidence says these storms aren’t coming . . . we’re being sold a bill of goods,” he said.
Oak Bluffs selectman Roger Wey, who is also director of the Oak Bluffs senior center, accused the FAIR plan of taking advantage of people who were forced out of the private market.
“You seem to be reaping the harvest on a fixed audience who don’t have any other insurance options. These deductibles are so high — $30,000 in most cases — that people are scared to report damages. Meanwhile people are simply dropping their policies because they can’t afford their premiums,” Mr. Wey said. “You’re choking these people. You say things will change but meanwhile you’re making all the profits.”
Mr. Golembeski ended the meeting by saying: “This business is cyclical. . . we will see the day when the private market starts writing policies more in this region. But that is not necessarily going to lower the rates. I don’t think they are going back to down the rates of two or three years ago.”