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A new insurance commissioner has allowed State Farm to charge higher rates and deductibles in Texas.

State Farm Insurance on Dec. 1 was authorized to switch many of its 1.2 million homeowner policies to a higher deductible.

The Dallas Morning News reports Commissioner Elanor Kitzman, who took office in August, found no reason to reject the increases. State Farm sought the changes in September.

The new minimum deductible is 1 percent of a home’s insured value, instead of a flat rate.

Critics say a higher minimum deductible means less coverage.

Kitzman also allowed an average 10 percent increase in homeowner rates. State Farm says higher discounts will reduce the actual increase to an average 1.4 percent.

New customers have paid the rates since Oct. 15. Existing policyholders saw the changes Dec 1.

State Farm has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with Texas insurance regulators, including former Commissioner Mike Geeslin, over alleged overcharges for homeowners insurance.

The Texas Department of Insurance in November 2009 ordered State Farm Lloyd‘s (SFL) to refund a total of $310 million to policyholders after finding that the insurer had overcharged customers beginning in 2003. State Farm had been told in 2003 to cut its rates by 12 percent but the company sued the department and appealed. The case has been in limbo since then.

In April 2011, State District Judge Tim Sulak in Austin ruled that State Farm must refund nearly $350 million to its policyholders. The $350 million includes interest payments and affects around 1.2 million policyholders. the company said at the time it would appeal that decision.

Shortly after Judge Sulak’s order, one state lawmaker canceled his policy with State Farm over its refusal to refund its policyholders. Texas State Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio announced he would terminate his policyholder relationship with State Farm Insurance Co. because of the company’s persistent refusal to pay back customers that have been overcharged on their premiums. He had been a State Farm policyholder for than 10 years.

Posted 10:24 AM

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