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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Citizens Insurance assumes more power, slams the media spotlight that comes with it

 “Explosive,” “inaccurate,” “exaggerated” and “hyperventilating” were some of the invectives hurled at the media by board members of Citizens Property Insurance on Thursday.

The collective media-bashing took place during a committee meeting Thursday when Citizens discussed a plan to remove a 10-percent cap on rate increases for new customers, potentially costing homeowners thousands of dollars.

As Citizens presses forward with an ambitious, unprecedented plan to enact a flurry of policy changes that will affect hundreds of thousands of Floridians, it’s not happy with the type of media attention that plan has garnered.

In the past, media attention to the state-run insurer has focused on the Legislature, because state elected officials traditionally have taken on the role of deciding things like creating “glide paths” or “caps” on rate increases.

Now, as Citizens has decided to operate more independently from the Legislature, the media spotlight, naturally, is turning to the 8-member unelected board responsible for the multi-billion-dollar policy changes.

Citizens apparently does not like how the media spotlight has been cast.

Board chairman Carlos Lacasa said recent stories on Citizens have had an “explosive nature” and an “exaggerated nature.”

Board member John Rollins, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott (who championed Citizens’ increased independence), called recent stories about the uncapped rate plan “media hyperventilating.”

As Citizens steps into a brighter media spotlight during its massive risk-reduction campaign, at least one industry insider told the Herald/Times that the company should show more openness to reporters seeking information about the insurer of 1.4 million.

After reviewing data that showed potential rate increases of 95 percent for some homeowners, a Miami Herald reporter spoke to Citizens’ spokesperson this week for clarification. The reporter asked specifically if a higher but still “capped” rate would be considered in order to shield some homeowners from paying rates at up to 95 percent increases. The response: “That is not something being considered.”

Members of Citizens’ board met Thursday and quickly retreated from the reported plan of rate increases of up to 95 percent, saying that it was considering an option to institute a higher “glidepath” or “cap” for new customers (the option the reporter previously asked about).

Additionally, a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times' reporter’s relatively minor public records requests into Citizens this week has not been acknowledged.

Additionally, Citizens—which has a strong tradition of publishing all meeting minutes and agenda documents online—has had a couple mix-ups in recent months that left crucial public information off the insurer’s website.

After a Miami Herald story about the proposed uncapped rate plan, Citizens temporarily took down from its website a document detailing how premiums in various cities might be impacted by the plan (that’s where the 95-percent number, for Hialeah, came from). It has since been replaced.

Last month, Citizens left the media and the public in the dark as board members discussed a groundbreaking revised budget proposal for 2012 and 2013.

That budget—which proposed to eliminate as many as 678,000 policies from the rolls in the next 18 months--was left off of the list of online documents available to the public. It was not adopted.

Sean Shaw, founder of Policyholders of Florida, said: "Citizens is starting to sound like the media critic of last resort, not the insurer of last resort."

@ToluseO

[Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 2:25pm]

    

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