Thursday, May 24, 2018
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: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
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A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
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Updated: 05/23/18
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
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Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18