Earthquake Insurance and Disaster Assistance

The Effect of Catastrophe Obligation Guarantees on Federal Disaster-Assistance Expenditures in California

by Tom LaTourrette, James N. Dertouzos, Christina E. Steiner, Noreen Clancy

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Abstract

In an effort to increase the availability and affordability of insurance for catastrophic events, the Catastrophe Obligation Guarantee Act was introduced in Congress in 2009. One of the arguments in support of this provision is that it lowers insurer costs, which lowers premium rates, increases the number of residents who buy catastrophe insurance, decreases the uninsured loss in disasters, and, ultimately, decreases federal disaster-assistance spending. The California Earthquake Authority, a state-managed catastrophe-insurance program that would qualify for the loan guarantees, sought an estimate of the potential magnitude of this effect for earthquakes in California. As part of the analysis, the report examines the price elasticity for earthquake insurance and relationships between earthquake-insurance coverage and loss compensation. We find that catastrophe obligation guarantees would reduce federal disaster-assistance costs by $3 million to $7 million for every $10 billion in total earthquake loss. Our findings show that changes in insurance coverage would have to be dramatic to have an appreciable impact on uninsured loss and disaster assistance. This result suggests that other avenues for increasing earthquake-insurance coverage, including offering new earthquake-insurance products that provide more-attractive options for consumers, might warrant consideration.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the California Earthquake Authority and was conducted by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice, a unit of the RAND Corporation.

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