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Vol. 88, No. 4 (Posted 2006-07-01)

Should the Government Provide Insurance for Catastrophes?

by J. David Cummins

This paper evaluates the need for a government role in insuring natural and man-made catastrophes in the United States. Although insurance markets have been stressed by major natural catastrophes, such as Hurricane Katrina, government involvement in the market for natural catastrophe insurance should be minimized to avoid crowding-out more efficient private market solutions, such as catastrophe bonds. Instead, government should facilitate the development of the private market by reducing regulatory barriers. The National Flood Insurance Program has failed to cover most property owners exposed to floods and is facing severe financial difficulties. The program needs to be drastically revised or replaced by private market alternatives, such as federal “make available” requirements with a federal reinsurance backstop. A federal role may be appropriate to insure against mega-terrorist events. However, any program should be minimally intrusive and carry a positive premium to avoid crowding-out private market alternatives.

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