To contact the state insurance commissioner’s office go to http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/101-help/index.cfm.

Tuolumne County officials say hundreds, if not thousands, of residents have struggled to get homeowners insurance or been dropped by their existing providers in recent years, but California’s top insurance regulator reportedly believes the state’s market is in “very healthy” shape.

County Administrator Tracie Riggs said she and County Supervisor Sherri Brennan recently joined officials from other rural counties in Sacramento for a “disappointing” meeting to discuss the issue with Ricardo Lara, the state’s new insurance commissioner who took office on Jan. 7.

Riggs said Lara told them he can get anyone insurance if they call his office.

“We respectfully disagreed with him,” Riggs said. “In my office alone there’s only six or eight of us and three of them had their insurance cancelled in the last couple months. And that’s just a small subset.”

Many county residents have reported issues with skyrocketing annual premiums or being dropped from their longtime providers since the 2013 Rim Fire, which prompted the county to begin collecting testimony from people who had experienced problems.

Riggs said the county’s problem with homeowners insurance has affected home sales, some of which have fallen through due to the cost of insurance, time it takes to secure a plan, or inability to get insurance.

Some have had to resort to using the state’s FAIR Plan, which can be costly and require people to obtain separate liability insurance.

“What he (Lara) has asked, because he does feel like it’s such a healthy market, is that we would begin filtering all these individuals who are struggling with insurance into their office,” Riggs said. “He says they do have the resources to help, and they will help.”

Riggs directed people to go on the county’s website, click on the fire icon on the main page that says “Wildfire Preparedness” underneath, and then click “Insurance Information” on the left hand side of the screen.

There is a link on the “Insurance Information” page that directs people to the commissioner’s page with a phone number to seek help and how to file a complaint online.

The county has also reached out to insurance agents in the county to tell their clients how to contact the commissioner’s office if they are having difficulty, as well as the Tuolumne County Realtors Association.

Dave Jones, the former state insurance commissioner, spoke out about the issue last year near the end of his final term in office.

Jones told The Union Democrat in late August that he was concerned more people in high risk areas for fire would be dropped from their insurance due to deadly blazes in recent years. That was before Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive in state history.

The former Democratic commissioner pushed for a number of legislative fixes to help the problem in rural areas, which included requiring risk models used by insurance companies to be approved by the state Department of Insurance.

Many local fire officials have said one of the key problems is that prominent tools used by insurance companies to determine fire risk don’t take into account certain preventative measures, such as shaded fuel breaks.
Brennan said on Tuesday that she’s in charge of a committee for the Rural County Representatives of California that is looking into the risk-analysis tools and possible legislation that could help.

None of the fixes recommended by Jones were introduced in the state Legislature, which he believed was due to the “overwhelming influence of the insurance industry” on state lawmakers through lobbying and campaign contributions.

The San Diego Union-Tribune recently reported that Lara, also a Democrat like Jones, had received $53,000 in contributions to his 2022 re-election campaign from insurance company executives and their spouses.

None of the donations were illegal, the newspaper reported.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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