The Audit explains: While Hartwig is right that the industry’s and the government’s books are separate, private insurers are actually intimately involved in the flood program. Private insurers adjust federal flood claims for the government and were charged with the task of assigning the cause of Katrina damage to either wind (meaning insurers paid) or flood (meaning the government paid). Litigation and congressional testimony supports Bloomberg’s assertion that insurers on at least some occasions attributed losses caused by wind to flood damage, and thus avoided payment at the government’s expense.
Bloomberg’s phrasing was clumsy, however, in that it could lead to the conclusion that the flood program helped boost insurer profits by 25 percent when the sentence merely meant that profits grew 25 percent and the flood program helped. It is beyond question that this is true.
Audit’s bottom line: Bloomberg could have saved itself some headaches by using figures that were less tendentious: if it said insurers paid out 65 percent, instead of 55 percent, is that something insurers should be proud of? Should Bloomberg have said profits increased “six fold,” rather than an average of 46 percent a year in a given period?
It could have but didn’t have to.
Another point: facts are important, but arguments over the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin can serve as an unhelpful distraction from the need to address what are obviously real problems.
Bloomberg’s story had a point of view: that the insurance claims system is broken to the point that underpayment is now routine, indeed systemic. It used facts to support its point.
To me, that’s a strength. But, of course, that’s just my opinion.