Thursday, January 4, 2007
Rep. Buck expects more insurance issues
By SUE WATSON
Another insurance crisis is likely to loom over the Mississippi legislature in 2007, according to Rep. Kelvin Buck, who serves on the insurance committee.
“With the education issue (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) pretty much resolved and full funding expected, I think we are going to have to deal with some insurance problem,” Buck said.
The insurance dilemma, the second crisis the state has had in insurance since physician malpractice insurance costs went over the top a few years ago, is likely to be how to keep property insurance premiums from sky rocketing and how to get Gulf Coast residents money to rebuild their homes or businesses.
“Some insurance companies are expected to ask for a 50 percent to 75 percent increase in premiums to offset their losses in Katrina,” Buck said. “It is an issue for the insurance commissioner (George Dale) for the most part, but I think the legislature is going to have to do something related to that this session.”
Buck said as physicians had threatened to leave the state when malpractice insurance became so costly several years ago, some insurance companies have threatened to stop writing property insurance in Mississippi.
“Commissioner Dale has warned the legislature in general,” Buck said. “I think he was trying to let us know there may be some problems with insurance in the near future. Dale said insurance companies are pushing to raise premiums everywhere in the state.”
With insurance companies fighting to delay paying damages incurred by residents on the coast, Buck said the state may have to force the insurance companies to pay. That could involve efforts by the legislature, the insurance commissioner and the attorney general, he said.
Buck explained that a radical increase in property insurance premiums state-wide to offset losses on the coast could be costly to individuals and businesses over the entire state.
“Everybody would have to share in this,” he said, “even residents in Marshall County.”
The loss of insurance companies willing to underwrite in the state could also cause an insurance crisis, Buck said.
“To me, the key is to minimize this in some way,” he said. “I think we could look at some of this federal money and try to put some of it into the insurance pool to try to offset the crisis.
“And we could give some federal money to rebuild while people wait for their insurance company to settle.
“The bottom line is to not have insurance premiums too high for people to afford it. And we need to make sure those people without houses are made whole and residents are back into homes as soon as possible.
“It’s nearly two years since Katrina and we still haven’t resolved this issue to bring closure to this ordeal.”
A third issue the legislature may face this year is in the area of funding mental health, in terms of support for existing facilities and for services.
Buck said changes in Medicare that took effect January 2006 have indirectly undercut Medicaid’s ability to fund mental health centers and services.
“Funding for mental health is going to be crucial due to shortfalls in federal funding of mental health centers,” he said. “When we changed over in 2006 for Medicare, there were some things Medicaid couldn’t pay for and stay solvent because of changes in Medicare.”
State revenues are expected, by conservative estimates, to increase the state’s budget by between 12 percent to 15 percent in 2007 and possibly 2008 due to reconstruction taking place on the Mississippi Coast, Buck said.
“We do know we have about $200 million extra revenue this year and maybe next year,” he said.
Buck said some legislators believe it is important this session to push for another raise for state employees across the board.
Increases in 2006 brought up to $1,500 minimum per year in salary increases and some merit raises under a new promotion scale, he said.
“We want to look at that again and try to upgrade again,” he said.
This pay raise does not include teacher salary increases which will be paid for under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, if it is fully funded, he said.
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