Louisiana governor aims to send out insurance rate relief checks

Monday, October 9th 2006, 3:57 pm
By: News On 6

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ The governor proposed a $1 billion plan Monday to ease the post-hurricane insurance burden on Louisiana homeowners by sending them refund checks to cover recent rate increases.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco's plan requires legislative approval and a change to the state Constitution, in part because some of the money would be raised by selling off what remains of Louisiana's share of the 1998 nationwide tobacco settlement.

The plan calls for the state to essentially refund the rate increases, averaging 15 percent, that private insurance companies imposed on the state's 1 million policyholders after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The increases were imposed to offset losses suffered by the quasi-state program that provides coverage to people who cannot get it elsewhere. Private companies help support the program.

Under Blanco's plan, homeowners would be sent checks next year. A homeowner who pays $1,000 per year for property insurance would receive $100 to $150.

``We need insurance rate relief, and we need it now,'' Blanco said.

Blanco would pay for the plan by using some of the projected state budget surplus, which could be as much as $700 million; about $50 million from the state's emergency fund; and the remaining 40 percent of Louisiana's tobacco settlement, according to Jerry Luke LeBlanc, Blanco's top financial adviser.

Louisiana is one of 46 states that settled lawsuits with tobacco companies in 1998 for $206 billion.

Louisiana was supposed to get more than $4.6 billion over 25 years. But in 2001, the state sold 60 percent of its share for $1.1 billion to get upfront cash.

The state Constitution would have to be amended by public vote to allow the use of tobacco money for the insurance payments.