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Venture

Robert Trigaux

As Gov. Scott seeks to end Citizens Insurance, property insurers rack up big earnings gains

25

April

citizensinsurancejohnpendygraft.jpgWake up and good morning. Once again, the message from our own legislators and the property insurance industry is smoke and mirrors. Here's our freshman governor Rick Scott secretly pushing to kill Citizens Property Insurance before his first term ends and to let insurance rates soar in Florida -- all in the name of free market competition.

And then here's the property insurance industry last month reporting that its net income climbed 21 percent last year to $34.7 billion.

That bears repeating since Floridians only seem to hear that the insurance industry, like hungry Oliver Twist in the orphanage, just wants a little more (rate hikes), please. So here it is in more detail:

A report issued (this month) by the Insurance Services Office Inc. and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America states that private U.S. property/casualty insurers’ net income after taxes rose to $34.7 billion in 2010 from $28.7 billion the year before, with insurers’ rate of return on average policyholders’ surplus — a key measure of overall profitability — increasing to 6.5 percent from 5.9 percent. Read more here.

So how can this be? Florida's starved for insurance capital and insurers are clamoring for never-ending rate hikes even though Florida has not had a significant hurricane in 5-plus years? And Gov. Gumby, I mean Gov. Scott, seems willing to bend over backwards (behind closed doors, it seems) to give the insurance industry carte blanche?

Less than a week after getting her Pulitzer Prize for investigating the insurance industry's shenanigans, Sarasota Herald Tribune reporter Paige St. John stirred the pot again with her Sunday story saying Scott wants to secretly get rid of Citizens Insurance and force Floridians to find (much more expensive) coverage in the private market.

Writes St. John: "In a February meeting with the industry lobbyists writing bills for the upcoming legislative session, documents show that Governor Scott's top staff sought to force the 1.3 million property owners who now have a policy from the state-run carrier back into the private market, 'phasing out Citizens completely.' The industry lobbyists protested that Florida carriers could not absorb all of Citizens' business, records show. The gap would force many Florida property owners to turn to the unregulated surplus lines market, where rates are unchecked and policies are not backed by a state guarantee fund."

That story prompted follow-ups and analysis on Tallahassee's plans in the St. Petersburg Times, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting here and Florida Today.

Just remember in the coming months, as the spin begins on letting insurance premiums run wild, which industry just enjoyed a 21 percent increase in earnings. The sky is not falling. But the insurance industry (and apparently Gov. Scott) would like Floridians to believe it is.

And we wonder why Floridians' outlook on the economy -- and their wallets -- continues to be grim...

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Monday, April 25, 2011 8:16am]

    

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