Kudos to Sarasota's Pulitzer, but will state ever stand up to powerful insurance industry?
Wake up and good morning. First and foremost, congratulations to Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter Paige St. John (photo, left) who on Monday won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. Her series on Florida's insurance industry marks the first time the news organization has landed the coveted journalism prize and, as I have witnessed multiple times in a St. Petersburg Times newsroom when Pulitzers are won, the Herald-Tribune deservedly enjoyed a special day yesterday. See the Herald-Tribune's own story and the celebratory newsroom video here.
St. John's two-year investigation found that the $10 billion insurance market on which Floridians rely is, at every level, rigged against consumers, according to the Sarasota newspaper. "The past six years of record rate increases have in fact been driven by lies and half-truths from an industry that operates largely in secret and devoid of meaningful oversight, the series showed."
Here's how St. John's investigation is introduced: "Despite no hurricanes in five years, Florida insurers are demanding yet more money from homeowners. At the same time, the capital that insurers have on hand to pay claims has shrunk. The Herald-Tribune spent more than a year examining the Florida insurance market in an attempt to find out why." Read the entire investigative package here.
St. John's work certainly caught our attention in the St. Pete Times newsroom. For two reasons. First, it was admirable work about a Teflon-coated industry -- property insurance -- that not only has long been a bully in Florida but has also mastered the art of obscuring its profits from outgunned and malleable state regulators. But second, isn't it curious that St. John's sharply written investigative series seems to have sparked little if any backlash in Tallahassee about an insurance industry that's so successfully manipulated the system for so many years? Not only are Floridians, who pay big bucks for property coverage, at risk because in-state insurers are so weak. Much of the insurance premiums Floridians pay leave the state, to parent insurance companies elsewhere or, more likely, to reinsurance companies overseas.
And where has all this left Florida? Teetering on a cliff. Indeed, after five-plus years without hurricanes, the insurance industry continues to whine it must radically increase its prices time and again in order to be safe and competitive in the Florida homeowners market. And the current administration, led by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, has clearly bought the insurance industry's latest pitch hook, line and sinker.
Of course, given the political machinations in Tallahassee these days, I doubt that Scott, had he even read St. John's series, would be any less eager to give the powerful insurance industry exactly what it wants. Higher prices.
So, congratulations, Paige! Here's hoping a Pulitzer-caliber series may yet have a real world benefit to Florida.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times