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Katrina Life Issues Challenge Gulf Coast Regulators

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Insurance regulators in the states hit hardest by Katrina are starting to wrestle with storm-related life and health issues as well as storm-related property-casualty issues.[@@]

Both in Louisiana and Mississippi, property-casualty claims now account for most of the storm-related claims.

Although authorities once estimated that Katrina could have killed more than 10,000 people, the official Louisiana death toll now stands at 423 and the Mississippi death toll stands at 218.

But Louisiana Insurance Commissioner J. Robert Wooley and Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale say they are preparing for the possibility that some residents may have to file claims for insureds whose bodies cannot be found or cannot be identified.

Wooley says he is asking the New York State Insurance Department how it handled 9-11 World Trade Center attack death claims in cases in which there was no body or other clear-cut physical evidence that the insured had died.

Wooley also is talking to Florida insurance regulators to learn about its response to the 4 hurricanes that hit the state in 2004.

Wooley says he is hearing that, immediately after a disaster strikes, consumers call with requests for general information. About 3 to 4 weeks after the disaster strikes, consumers starting calling to talk about specific problems, Wooley says.

Florida also may have lessons to teach other states about disaster preparedness for insurance companies and insurance agencies.

In Florida, even small insurers and agencies usually back up their databases in remote locations and maintain business continuity plans, says Kevin McCarty, commissioner of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

Meanwhile, here are some concrete steps regulators are taking in response to Katrina-related life and health issues:

- Commissioners in affected states are completing emergency orders for insurers. The commissioners released a draft of the orders earlier this month to get industry input. The commissioners hope to release a final version of the orders Friday.

- Louisiana department representatives are visiting shelters to try to make contact with displaced people who need help with insurance questions. Representatives from other states, such as Texas and Utah, are making similar efforts to help the evacuees in their states, Wooley says.

- In some cases, insurance department representatives are arranging for insurers to make electronic fund transfers of benefits payments or annuity payments to banks near shelters, so that storm survivors have immediate access to cash, Wooley says.


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