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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE CLOSURE: UPDATES, RESOURCES, AND CONTEXT

Homeowners across NC blast proposed 42% insurance rate hike

Speakers from across the state gathered at the N.C. Department of Insurance hearing room in Raleigh to protest homeowners insurance rate hikes. Hundreds more logged on to a virtual public comment session.
Colin Campbell
/
WUNC
Speakers from across the state gathered at the N.C. Department of Insurance hearing room in Raleigh to protest homeowners insurance rate hikes. Hundreds more logged on to a virtual public comment session.

North Carolina insurance officials got an earful Monday about a proposal to increase homeowners insurance rates by an average of 42%.

The N.C. Department of Insurance held a public hearing on the rate hikes that lasted more than six hours. Dozens of people from across the state spoke out about how they can't afford higher premiums.

Patrick O'Donnell is a town commissioner in Minnesott Beach in Pamlico County, which is working on a resolution opposing the increases.

"Many people live in Pamlico County live on fixed incomes and will be priced out of their homes and face bankruptcy," he said. "This is not affordable."

The proposed rate increases would vary widely across the state. Beach communities from Carteret County south to the South Carolina line would see their rates nearly double.

Durham and Wake counties would face a 40% increase, while Chatham and Orange would see an increase of 25%. The proposed increases are lowest in some mountain counties: a 4% increase is proposed for Haywood, Swain, Madison and Transylvania counties.

Speakers at Monday's hearing pointed to insurance company CEOs' large salaries as they questioned why the rate hikes are needed.

"This is some directive that was fostered in the boardrooms of the large insurance companies," said Mike McHugh of the Swansboro Area Chamber of Commerce. "It's hard to swallow that this increase will be necessary given the salaries that the CEOs of the major insurance companies take in each year."

Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey will decide whether to allow the proposed increases or negotiate a smaller rate hike. He did not attend the hearing in person, which prompted criticism from some of the speakers. Other department staff members led the hearing and took notes on the comments.

State Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat running for insurance commissioner, said more scrutiny is needed beyond the hearing.

"The public deserves a full public hearing on the proposed rate increase that would include evidence presented by insurance companies under oath about their profits, about their salaries, about the claims made in the different regions of the state," she said. "That evidence needs to be cross examined by the commissioner of insurance himself ... just comments on the record is not enough."

N.C. Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat running for insurance commissioner, spoke about proposed homeowners insurance rate hikes during a public hearing at the Department of Insurance on Jan. 22, 2023.
Colin Campbell
/
WUNC
N.C. Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat running for insurance commissioner, spoke about proposed homeowners insurance rate hikes during a public hearing at the Department of Insurance on Jan. 22, 2023.

While he wasn't present Monday, Causey took the unusual step last week of releasing a video in which he explained the rate increase approval process. He noted that he has reduced previous rate hike proposals through negotiations with insurance companies.

"I am committed to fighting for lower rates for you, the consumer," Causey said. "That is exactly what I have done in the past and will continue to do this year."

In 2021, insurance companies sought a 24.5% average increase in homeowners insurance rates. The final increase ended up being an average of 7.9% after negotiations with Causey.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.