NEW YORK (Reuters) - Allstate Corp’s Chief Executive Officer Tom Wilson on Tuesday called on U.S. lawmakers to overhaul a government subsidized flood insurance program, calling for a more streamlined system that does not overburden taxpayers.
Allstate, the second-largest U.S. homeowners’ insurer based on premiums collected, is concerned that efforts by lawmakers and advocacy groups to reform the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will fall flat.
“The flood insurance situation needs to be completely redone,” Wilson said.
Lawmakers are wrestling with how to handle the insurance coverage of homeowners in flood-prone areas.
The NFIP is nearly $25 billion in debt to the U.S. Treasury. Both Republicans and Democrats want to reform the program, which has been extended repeatedly since it was established in 2008 and is set to expire on Dec. 8.
The impact of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit Texas and Florida in recent weeks, has added urgency to the issue.
The combined claims from the two storms will ultimately exceed NFIP’s spending authority, a situation for Congress to fix, NFIP Director Roy Wright in a telephone interview.
Harvey claims could total $11 billion, while it is too early to estimate total Irma claims, said Wright.
But Allstate’s Wilson was concerned that efforts to reform NFIP would be short-lived.
“Once these hurricanes go past, once the tornadoes go past, people tend to have short memories,” Wilson said on the sidelines of an investor conference in New York.
Wilson envisions a streamlined insurance system for floods and wind damage, instead of a “patchwork” that relies on federal government-backed flood coverage and some state-backed insurers for wind and hail. Insurers and reinsurers have been making similar arguments for years.
Lower-risk property owners also need to be part of the system to make it function well, Wilson said.
“Not enough people buy it, and the people who do buy it use it more than they should,” he said, adding that the coverage is limited and sold for less than it is worth.
NFIP limits, up to $250,000 for residences and $100,000 for contents, were last changed in 1994. The policies also do not cover additional living expenses or damage to basements.
“Congress needs to give us more authority to change those coverages and align things in ways that conform to the industry,” Wilson said.
Allstate would consider selling private flood insurance if the system is fixed, he said.
“We insure all kinds of stuff,” Wilson said. “But it’s got to be a better market.”
Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; Editing by Leslie Adler and Rosalba O'Brien