April, 2008

The Market for Hurricane Mitigation: Regulatory or Market Failure?

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Losses from hurricane catastrophes have accelerated in recent years, with seven of the top nine hurricanes ranked by insured losses occurring during 2004 and 2005. Hurricane losses have affected the availability of insurance in coastal states and contributed to enormous growth in state residual wind markets. Of particular policy concern is the possibility that homeowners, businesses and insurance companies are not investing in the efficient amount of mitigation to reduce hurricane losses.

This paper examines some of the potential barriers to the adoption of efficient mitigation and reviews specific state insurance regulation and legislation that impedes and encourages mitigation. Premium discounts and hurricane deductibles, which are waived if property owners invest in mitigation, provide incentives for mitigation, but mitigation discounts mandated by legislators potentially could represent disguised insurance subsidies. Irrationalities in decision-making such as low-probability event bias, myopia, and inertia might make it difficult for insurers to convince property owners to invest in mitigation. But this is not different in type from the problem entrepreneurs face in general in making consumers aware of the value of products. Restrictions on contractual mechanisms insurance companies can use to encourage mitigation, like requiring mitigation as a condition for renewal of coverage or funding mitigation after a disaster through long term loans or contracts, could prevent insurers from using effective incentives for mitigation, and could reduce the supply of insurance in coastal areas.