Caution urged as private insurers offer flood coverage

Caution urged as private insurers offer flood coverage

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - People in the New Orleans area are seeing big changes in flood insurance, and watchdogs urge caution.

Private insurers are now offering coverage that was formerly restricted to the federal flood insurance program, and they are quoting a wide variety of rates.

In a state that has collected more flood insurance money than any other, it was surprising that after last year's floods, many carried no flood insurance at all.

"I can't afford to rebuild. I don't know what I will do," Tangipahoa Parish flood victim Billy Lee told us last September.

Most victims say they will never go without flood insurance again, but it's a changing landscape.

"A lot of folks can't afford it. The NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) is going to expire in September. We've got to have it in Louisiana," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA.

The National Flood Insurance Program is about to be revamped at a time when private insurers are now offering flood coverage. In some cases, the private company offers coverage at half price, but there are concerns.

"I don't want private insurers just to come in and pick the best policies, those with the least risk, because that will undermine the program," Kennedy said.

Others say they are being quoted rates substantially higher. And if policies aren't backed by the federal government, insurance customers are urged to use caution.

"If these private insurers aren't regulated by the state, who are they regulated by? The federal insurance, we know they back it up," said Cynthia Albert with the Better Business Bureau.

But the days are numbered for the national flood program. In three months, it's set to expire, and Congress is prepared to re-work, and re-authorize it.

"It will come through my committee, it will extend the flood insurance  program for six years," said Kennedy.

Kennedy is part of a group proposing a new national flood program that will allow for flood insurance through the NFIP to  increase by no more than 10 percent a year to help keep the program solvent. Kennedy also said the new legislation will streamline the claim filing process and simplify flood mapping.

"It will introduce a new mapping called LIDAR mapping, a new technology which, if we use it, will make flood maps a lot more accurate," Kennedy said.

It only takes flooding one time to realize how vital flood insurance can be. And those who have lost everything can now consider both private and federal flood insurance options.

Kennedy said he expects to get opposition to the new flood insurance program from lawmakers who don't come from flood-prone states. He said he will have to convince them that wherever you live, you could be vulnerable.

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