WILKES-BARRE — Jessica Altman, the state’s acting insurance commissioner, last week urged Congress to include provisions specifically supporting private market residential flood insurance as it works on the re-authorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), set to expire on Sept. 30.
“The Wolf administration has been educating homeowners, renters and condo owners concerning private market flood insurance options for the past year and a half, and has found in many cases that comparable private coverage is much more affordable than what is available through the NFIP,” Altman said in a news release, referring to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
Altman said that in the first year, the Insurance Department flood insurance web page listed private options, and the number of private, residential flood policies more than doubled — from 1,500 to more than 3,300. But, she said, Congress needs to put support for private coverage into law as part of the NFIP re-authorization bill.
The NFIP was created in 1968 to provide flood coverage for high-risk properties and included significant subsidies for these properties. Huge numbers of claims after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Super Storm Sandy in 2012 contributed to the NFIP falling $24 billion in debt, and to Congress passing laws that are phasing out the premium subsidies over time.
The potential impact of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana this summer could make this problem even worse. As NFIP premiums rise to approach the cost of insuring the actual risk each property presents, the private market is entering the residential flood insurance market because it now can compete with the NFIP.
“Specifically, we need Congress to make private flood coverage that is comparable to the NFIP acceptable for federally backed mortgages,” Altman said. “Lenders need to know this insurance is good coverage, and they should accept it. We also need Congress to require the NFIP to allow homeowners to switch to a private policy from an NFIP policy during the policy year, with no penalty, and receive a pro-rated refund of their NFIP premiums covering the remainder of the year.
“Bottom line: If a consumer finds a better deal, they should not be penalized for taking it.”
Altman also said Congress needs to remove the current prohibition on insurers who sell NFIP coverage from also selling their own, private coverage. She said this would be another step in ensuring that consumers get the best deal for their insurance dollar.
“Even if your home is not in an area that requires flood insurance, I encourage you to think about getting this coverage,” Altman said.
She said many people mistakenly believe standard homeowners insurance covers flooding, but it usually does not. She added that private market flood coverage for homes outside SHFAs that typically do not flood might be reasonably priced.
Wolf calls for universal testing
of blood-lead levels in children
Gov. Tom Wolf last week announced his support for universal testing of blood-lead levels in Pennsylvania children under the age of 2 to determine who is at risk for lead poisoning and where children with the highest and lowest blood-lead levels reside.
“We need to be able to identify all children who have elevated blood-lead levels in order make sure their families have access to the services they need,” Wolf said in a news release. “Only with universal testing will we know the true scope of lead poisoning in Pennsylvania and be able to refer affected children for care.”
Wolf called on the Department of Health to work with the General Assembly and community partners to draft legislation to require universal testing in Pennsylvania.
According to the Department of Health’s latest report on lead, only 28 percent of children as old as 23 months were tested for the element in 2015. Testing rates ranged from 12 to 47 percent across counties.
Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s acting Secretary of Health and Physician General, said universal testing will address the gaps in childhood lead testing data, which will help develop and implement a comprehensive lead-poisoning prevention strategy in Pennsylvania.
Nationally, among states with older houses, lead-based paint is a significant source of lead exposure in young children. According to 2010 Census data, Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for the number of housing units built before 1950, when lead was most prevalent in paint and plumbing.
State Police announce
2016 DUI arrest totals
The Pennsylvania State Police announced last week that troopers made 19,518 arrests last year on people suspected of driving under the influence.
The total includes arrests of suspects on both alcohol and drug offenses and reflects a 3.8 percent increase from the number of DUI arrests in 2015.
Additionally, state troopers investigated 4,520 DUI-related crashes in 2016.
The statistics cover only those arrests and crashes investigated by state police and do not include statistics from other law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania.
State program notes significant
reduction in ‘doctor shopping’
Wolf has recognized the more than 93,000 users registered with Pennsylvania’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). Those users have helped reduce the number of patients “doctor-shopping” for Schedule II-IV controlled-substance prescription drugs in the past year.
“In its first year, we have seen an incredible 86 percent drop in patients doctor-shopping because of professionals using the PDMP,” Wolf said in a news release.
“Doctor-shopping” is defined as a patient visiting five or more prescribers and pharmacies for Schedule II-IV medications, such as opioids and benzodiazepines, in a three-month period.
Wolf said the program has played a key role in increasing communication to not only reduce the number of unnecessarily prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines, but also getting patients with substance-abuse disorders the help they need.
To date, more than 15,000 Pennsylvanians have contacted a statewide helpline for assistance. 1-800-662-HELP is available 24/7 for those who need immediate assistance with drug and alcohol problems.