Make us your home page
Instagram

Citizens Insurance reform plan could cost property owners more money

TALLAHASSEE — Property insurance rates across the state could shoot up much faster beginning next year under a massive new proposal being drafted in the Florida Legislature.

The proposal, released in draft form Wednesday, shows that lawmakers' attempts to reform Citizens Property Insurance could have costly repercussions for millions of property owners.

"We've all seen that artificially suppressing rates is a recipe for disaster," said Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. "When you cause a private company to not be able to make a profit, what do they do? They do what we have seen. They have a flight from the state of Florida."

Simmons disputed the claim that the proposal would lead to higher rates and said there would probably be several amendments to address any concerns.

The bill is full of enticements long coveted by private insurers and business groups, who wield considerable political power but regularly face legislative defeats because of the pocketbook implications of their requests. The latest proposal would give insurance companies more latitude to raise premiums faster and weaken their top competition — Citizens — by forcing it to charge higher prices.

One measure in the 34-page bill is particularly telling: It would change a legal mandate that insurance in Florida be "affordable," adding new language requiring premium prices to "reflect the risks covered." It also would mandate that Citizens charge prices that are higher than what's available in the private market.

Because the proposal could have a multibillion-dollar pocketbook impact on millions of home­owners in coming years, it is likely to face opposition from lawmakers in Tampa Bay and South Florida, where insurance costs are highest.

Any rate increases engendered by the bill would probably hit homeowners in 2014, right as campaigns for primary and general elections in the Legislature heat up. Also up for re-election: Gov. Rick Scott, who has said lowering the cost of living is one of his top governing principles. Scott could face former Gov. Charlie Crist, who froze Citizens' insurance rates while in office and mandated "affordable" coverage, saving homeowners millions.

Throughout his governorship, Scott has steered clear of making specific proposals for property insurance reform, while simultaneously pushing Citizens' board to aggressively shrink the company. The board's actions have led to hundreds of millions of dollars in price hikes and coverage reductions. Scott has expressed concern that Citizens is undercutting the private market with its rates and could leave taxpayers liable to assessments after a once-in-a-lifetime storm.

The new proposal seeks to address that concern, along with several others. It includes the following provisions:

• Citizens must charge rates that are higher than average rates in the private market.

• Insurance companies may use an "insurance inflation factor" to raise premiums faster than currently allowed by law.

• Insurance companies, including Citizens, may charge home­owners additional fees to help cover the cost of backup insurance.

• Insurance companies can charge rates that are higher than what regulators traditionally allow, if homeowners agree to the higher charges.

It would also become more difficult to join Citizens under the new provision. Homes valued above $300,000 and properties that are not owner-occupied would no longer be eligible for state-run insurance. Homeowners, who currently can stay in Citizens indefinitely once they qualify, would have to requalify on an annual basis under the bill. If a private insurer offered coverage rates within 15 percent of Citizens' prices, the homeowner would be kicked out of Citizens.

Proponents say the proposal is aimed at steering people away from state-run insurance and into the private market, where there are moderate prices that are sometimes even cheaper than Citizens'.

"Shrinking Citizens does not require a majority of Citizens customers to pay more for their insurance," said Locke Burt, president of Security First Insurance and a former state senator. "We have proved by making over 14 million quotes of Citizens policies that tens of thousands of Citizens customers could save money by purchasing insurance in the private market."

A Citizens spokesperson declined to comment on the draft bill, saying the insurer is reviewing the proposal.

Some of the measures in the bill came directly from Citizens, including a proposal to allow the company to use its $6.2 billion surplus to back up smaller, private companies. The state-run insurers' "clearinghouse" idea — which allows policies to be offered to the private market before they go into Citizens — was also included in the bill.

The long-running measure also includes proposals to shrink Florida's Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and allow insurers to raise rates by up to 25 percent without a public hearing. The current threshold is 15 percent.

The decision to stuff so many controversial proposals into a single bill could be risky, as property insurance has proven to be one of the most politically dicey issues in recent years.

Leaders of the Democratic caucus in the House and the Senate each said last week that Democrats would be skeptical of any proposals to raise rates on home­owners. In the 40-member Senate, where there are 14 Democrats, any insurance proposal will face a tough task of corralling a 21-vote majority. Coalitions of Democrats and South Florida Republicans have joined in recent years to vote against insurance measures seen as anticonsumer.

That means only six Republican senators would have to break ranks to kill the proposal.

Citizens has 1.3 million policyholders, making up about 23 percent of the market in Florida. As the largest insurer in the state, Citizens covers a big portion of Florida's 12 million registered voters.

Some critics of the draft bill say homeowners have suffered enough in recent years, as Citizens has slashed coverage and inspected some 350,000 homes, sparking premium increases of nearly $200 million.

"I would never support that proposal," said Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, naming several of his Republican colleagues in the Senate who he believes feel the same way. "I feel confident that those senators will step up to the plate and stop any further rate hikes."

Citizens Insurance reform plan could cost property owners more money 02/06/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 10:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst

    Business

    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. Three-hour police standoff ends, thanks to a cigarette

    News

    TAMPA — A man threatening to harm himself was arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday after a three-hour standoff.

  3. Another Hollywood nursing home resident dies. It's the 9th in post-Irma tragedy.

    State Roundup

    The Broward County Medical Examiner's office is investigating another death of a resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills — the ninth blamed on the failure of a cooling system that became a stifling deathtrap three days after Irma hit.

    Carlos Canal, pictured at 47 years old, came to Miami from Cuba in 1960. Above is his citizenship photo. [Courtesy of Lily Schwartz]
  4. Despite Hurricane Irma, Hillsborough remains on pace to unlock hotel tax that could pay for Rays ballpark

    Tourism

    TAMPA — Despite the threat of a catastrophic storm, it was business as usual at many Hillsborough County hotels in the days before Hurricane Irma bore down on the Tampa Bay region.

    The Grand Hyatt near TIA closed during Hurricane Irma, but many other Hillsborough hotels were open and saw an influx.
  5. New Graham-Cassidy health care plan stumbles under opposition from governors

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — The suddenly resurgent Republican effort to undo the Affordable Care Act was dealt a blow on Tuesday when a bipartisan group of governors came out against a proposal gaining steam in the Senate.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joined by, from left, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks to reporters as he pushes a last-ditch effort to uproot former President Barack Obama's health care law, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. To win, 50 of the 52 GOP senators must back it -- a margin they failed to reach when the chamber rejected the effort in July. [/J. Scott Applewhite | Associated Press]