State regulator says controversial wildfire risk map does not affect insurance rates and availability

The fallout over Oregon’s new state fire hazard map continued on Friday, as the state’s insurance regulator issued a press release attempting to reassure angry homeowners that insurers are not and do not intend to use the card to make decisions about whether to insure individual homes and at what price.

He also issued a bulletin to insurance agents warning them that wrongfully blaming their decisions on the state card is against the state’s insurance code, and violators are subject to a fine of up to at $10,000.

The unusual move follows a public and political outcry following the release of the map by the Oregon Forest Department in June. Follow-up letters were sent in July to tens of thousands of property owners warning them that their property was deemed to be at “high” or “extreme” fire risk and would be subject to new building code requirements and obligations to remove flammable vegetation from around existing homes and structures.

The reaction was quick and negative. Some 2,000 people sent comments to the agency, and its staff faced a series of criticism from angry owners during a virtual meeting attended by some 1,200 people on July 26. Many of them claimed that the map was inaccurate, would require expensive investments to reduce the fires. risks, and would have an impact on insurance rates and availability.

As Republicans use the firestorm on the map as a political cudgel and the agency faces legitimate questions about its accuracy, State Forester Cal Mukumoto decided last week to pull the plug – from withdraw the map and suspend risk designations for individual properties – until the map is refined.

In Friday’s press release, State Insurance Commissioner Andrew Stolfi said new data collected by the Division of Financial Regulation indicates that concerns about insurance companies using the card to take decisions are unfounded.

The division issued an official “data call” to insurers doing business in Oregon to determine whether they were using or planning to use the state’s wildfire hazard map for underwriting decisions or pricing. Underwriting is the risk analysis process followed by an insurance company when issuing or renewing a policy. Scoring is the pricing process.

The agency said insurers are required to respond to data calls honestly, and all responded that they did not use the state’s wildfire map and did not intend to do. The division also has not received new proposed rate filings that include the state’s wildfire map as a rating factor, the agency said.

“This confirms what we knew: insurance companies are not using the state wildfire hazard map,” Stolfi said in the press release. “Insurance companies have for years used their own risk maps and other robust risk management tools to assess wildfire risk in making pricing and underwriting decisions.”

Unfortunately, he added, wildfire risk has increased in Oregon. Canceled or non-renewed individuals should work with an agent or contact the division’s consumer advocates if they need assistance.

The threatening bulletin sent to insurance agents said consumers needed accurate information about decisions made about their policies.

“The insurance industry has robust data tools used to make pricing and underwriting decisions that have been in the market for years,” he said. “Falsely attributing pricing or underwriting decisions to the state’s wildfire hazard map is a violation of the Insurance Code. Anyone who violates any provision of the Insurance Code may incur up to $10,000 $ in civil penalties per violation.

Meanwhile, the Forestry Department does not have a specific date for the availability of the revised map and hazard designation. Derek Gasperini, a spokesman for the agency, said Friday that Doug Grafe, director of state wildfire programs and the agency’s former fire protection chief, will meet with the forester. of the state next week to establish a timetable.

-Ted Sickinger;; 503-221-8505; @tedsickinger

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