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Reflections on U.S. Disaster Insurance Policy for the 21st Century

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  • Howard Kunreuther
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    Abstract

    The devastation caused by hurricanes during the 2004 and 2005 seasons has been unprecedented and is forcing the insurance industry to reevaluate the role that it can play in dealing with future natural disasters in the United States. As shown in Table 1 the four hurricanes that hit Florida in the fall of 2004 -- Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne---and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 comprised half of the top 12 disasters with respect to insured losses between 1970 and 2005. On a related note, 18 of the 20 most costly disasters occurred between 1990 and 2005 and 10 occurred in the 21st Century. This context is totally different than the scale of economic loss the country has suffered from natural disasters and other extreme events in the 20th century. The first section of the paper addresses the first question by outlining two principles on which a disaster insurance program should be based. Section 3 then focuses on the second question by analyzing the insurability of a risk and examining the challenges facing the private sector in providing coverage against natural disasters. Section 4 turns to the third question and delineates the opportunities and challenges of a comprehensive disaster insurance program. Section 5 poses a set of open issues that are currently being addressed by a research project on disaster insurance undertaken by the Wharton Risk Center in conjunction with the Insurance Information Institute and Georgia State University. The concluding section summarizes the key issues associated with providing disaster insurance in the 21st century.

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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12449.

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    Date of creation: Aug 2006
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    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12449

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    1. Colin F. Camerer & Howard Kunreuther, 1989. "Decision processes for low probability events: Policy implications," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 8(4), pages 565-592.
    2. Kunreuther, Howard & Novemsky, Nathan & Kahneman, Daniel, 2001. " Making Low Probabilities Useful," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 23(2), pages 103-20, September.
    3. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
    4. Bruce C. Greenwald & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1994. "Asymmetric Information and the New Theory of the Firm: Financial Constraints and Risk Behavior," NBER Working Papers 3359, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Hogarth, Robin M & Kunreuther, Howard, 1989. " Risk, Ambiguity, and Insurance," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 2(1), pages 5-35, April.
    6. Kunreuther, Howard & Hogarth, Robin & Meszaros, Jacqueline, 1993. " Insurer Ambiguity and Maarket Failure," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 7(1), pages 71-87, August.
    7. J. David Cummins, 2006. "Should the government provide insurance for catastrophes?," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Jul, pages 337-380.
    8. Martin F. Grace & Robert W. Klein & Paul R. Kleindorfer, 2004. "Homeowners Insurance With Bundled Catastrophe Coverage," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 71(3), pages 351-379.
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    Cited by:
    1. Mario Jametti & Thomas von Ungern-Sternberg, 2010. "Risk Selection in Natural-Disaster Insurance," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 166(2), pages 344-364, June.

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