Thursday, December 14, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Root out insurer abuses

Shopping for property insurance in Florida continues to be risky business. Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders warn that the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. won't be able to pay claims after a once-in-a-century hurricane without large post-storm assessments. Yet unproven private insurers that have taken over hundreds of thousands of Citizens policies have failed. And last week, the state's largest private property insurer was fined more than $1 million for mistreating its policyholders. No wonder Citizens customers are wary of the private insurance market.

For years state regulators have known that Fort Lauderdale-based Universal Property & Casualty mistreated its policyholders even as it experienced explosive growth. Among the litany of misdeeds found by the Office of Insurance Regulation was that Universal, like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown before yanking it away at the last moment, canceled policies right when a policyholder had a claim. "Post-claim underwriting" was a routine practice at Universal, the OIR found. When a policyholder filed a claim, Universal would search the initial application for insurance for mistakes or misstatements. If anything was found, Universal would deny the claim and cancel the insurance coverage. This left the homeowner with no insurance and major repair bills. Universal also would throw up hurdles to homeowners with claims by requiring them to produce multiple "notarized proof of loss" documents, according to OIR.

The company's business practices suggest that it purposely took losses to justify rate increases. The OIR investigation found that the company paid high fees to affiliated companies and shouldered a disproportionate share of the costs for those companies. For instance, a 2009 tax return that lists 29 companies with the same home address as Universal shows that Universal employed 14 percent of the total workforce but paid for 72 percent of the rental space.

An order by OIR released last week imposed a $1.26 million fine on the company, one of the largest ever levied against a Florida property insurer. But for a company that has more than 500,000 policyholders and $765 million in written annual premiums, a fine this size will have minimal impact. Meanwhile the investigation shows that many of the violations were repeat offenses. It had engaged in some of the same wrongful conduct when last investigated in 2005.

State regulators should look at their own practices: Why was a company with a history of misdeeds allowed to operate and grow so fast for eight years? But there should also be more severe sanctions and lawsuits. Universal's former president and CEO, Bradley Meier, who resigned earlier this year but who is still a paid adviser, deserves more scrutiny. Meier cashed out $5 million in stock, and as CEO he had been one of the highest paid in the state. He got paid well for selling insurance to unsuspecting consumers who had it yanked back just when they needed it most.

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Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

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Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Florida’s juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration was defensive and obtuse. So it’s welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17