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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida House passes insurance package



The Florida House unanimously passed a property insurance package by 117-0 that freezes rates in the state-run insurer another year.

The package is the result of weeks of negotiations between Sen. Jeff Atwater, R- North Palm Beach and Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland. The bill includes some new consumer protections, such as requiring big insurers to notify state regulators when they intend to drop more than 10,000 policies. It also borrows money from Citizens to fund a low-interest loan program for young start-up insurers, a measure that has drawn the ire of the governor.

The bill does not decrease private market insurance rates, said Rep. Don Brown, R-DeFuniak Springs. However, Sen. Jeff Atwater, who is pleased with the final negotiated product, said the bill was always more about holding insurers accountable for their management of customers.

"From the very get-go, it was about accountability," Atwater said.

Democrats supported the bill because of the one-year extension on the rate freeze for Citizens, but not without criticizing the bill and forcing a vote on a failed amendment that would have extended the rate freeze on Citizens for two years.

"It’s a shame that tonight, that on the eve of the end of session, that we are dealing with a bill of this magnitude,” said Democrat Rep. Priscilla Taylor.

The bill includes some of the provisions that Sen. Jeff Atwater pushed for earlly this session, such as permanently eliminating arbitration panels, which had been the way insurers preferred to settle disputes about rates. It also reverses a measure that the Legislature passed in 2006 that allowed insurers to charge a rate that included a profit for exposing their surplus to hurricane risk, which had been blamed as one of the culprits in the run-up in rates in 2006.

The bill also contains a few perks for insurers like language that prevents regulators from denying rate hikes based solely on whether an insurer purchases reinsurance to the somewhat conservative (and pricey) level of a 1 in 250 year storm. The bill allows private insurers to offer their customers a multiline discount even if the policyholder is a Citizens wind-only customer, a measure State Farm has been pushing for ever since state regulators denied them such a move last year.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:55am]


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