OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Major insurance companies have boosted homeowners' insurance rates in Oklahoma by as much as 45 percent as the cost of claims have increased and the companies' investments have sagged.
The decline of the stock market has hurt insurance companies' investment portfolios at a time when claims costs have increased along with the price of homes, medical treatment, labor and materials and the expense of litigation.
Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher encourages Oklahomans to shop for the best deal.
``You don't have to accept a rate increase,'' Fisher said. ``People get locked in and forget you can shop.''
In the past few months, Allstate Insurance Corp. has raised its homeowners rates 45 percent in Oklahoma; Farmers has raised home insurance prices 20 percent, and State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. has upped rates 15 percent.
Allstate, which has about 9 percent of the homeowners market in Oklahoma, has begun re-inspecting customers' homes as their policies come up for renewal, and has tightened standards for new customers.
Allstate spokesman Joe Gacioch said the company has chosen to end coverage for about 1 percent of those whose homes were inspected.
Despite the considerable rise in prices and cuts in availability, Allstate is still pursuing profitability, Gacioch said.
``We're doing better than we were, but we're not whole yet,'' he said.
State Farm and Farmers Insurance Group Inc., which each issue about 20 percent of the homeowner's policies in Oklahoma, also are losing money.
State Farm in 2000 paid out $1.23 in claims for every dollar in premiums it took in, State Farm spokesman Kelly Dunkerley said. Although last year's numbers aren't complete, Dunkerley said, ``I can tell you our 2001 experience was the same or even more negative.''
Kim Decker, governmental affairs representative for Farmers, said that company also is losing money in Oklahoma.
Caught in the middle are homeowners like Leon Gregory, who found himself without insurance after he filed three claims in three years for water damage to his home west of El Reno.
Farmers notified him earlier this year that his homeowner's policy would not be renewed. Other companies were reluctant to issue him coverage.
``I got awful disgusted trying to find insurance,'' he said. ``I've been to every insurance company there is.''
Gregory sought help from the state Insurance Department's Market Assistance Plan, which helps state residents who have been rejected for coverage at least three times. The number of people seeking help from the state program has more than tripled in a year.
In April 2001, the plan had 38 active files. Now, the plan is dealing with 129 clients seeking coverage.
Marion Rook, director of the Market Assistance Plan, said he's seeing more frustrated consumers than ever before. Insurance companies voluntarily participate in the program, but Rook said they are less willing to issue policies for customers with frequent claims or poor credit.
``Used to, we could call and see if they wouldn't reinstate coverage, but that's gotten tougher to do,'' he said. ``They're not as willing to accommodate us as they used to be.''