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California paves way for more insurance coverage in disaster-prone areas

Cheri Mossburg, CNN

(CNN) — California will now let insurance companies consider climate change when offering policies, in exchange for a mandate requiring them to offer coverage in wildfire-prone areas, state leaders announced on Thursday.

“We are at a major crossroads on insurance after multiple years of wildfires and storms intensified by the threat of climate change,” California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said in a statement. “The current system is not working for all Californians, and we must change course.”

As a result of several companies choosing to drop coverage in the state recently, consumers without options are flocking to the state-subsidized Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan.

“The FAIR plan has doubled to 3% of the market becoming the insurer of first resort for many Californians and not the last resort as it is intended to be,” Lara said Thursday at a news conference. “A growing FAIR plan is really a big problem for our state because the FAIR plan policyholders are required to pay more for less coverage and concentrating the highest risk properties under the FAIR plan increases the chance that they will be unable to afford a catastrophic disaster.”

An executive order issued by California Gov. Gavin Newsom clears the way for the new regulations.

Insurance companies will give priority to homeowners and businesses who have taken steps to harden their properties to disasters like wildfires, floods and windstorms. Lara said this is first-of-its-kind regulation. Once the new regulations are fully implemented, which is expected by December 2024, insurers will be required to have 85% of new policies they write cover property in areas prone to wildfires. Regulators believe that will help Californians to move off the FAIR plan.

“We’re not going to get to affordability if we don’t tackle the availability issue,” Lara said.

More available options for policies are expected to increase competition for better rates.

“This is yet another example of how climate change is directly threatening our communities and livelihoods. It is critical that California’s insurance market works to protect homes and businesses in every corner of our state,” Newsom said in a statement.

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