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Battle over insurance bill continues

With SB 408 still awaiting the governor's signature, supporters and opponents of the sweeping property insurance reform bill continue to make their cases. So far, the governor's office has received nearly 400 e-mails, telephone calls and letters on the issue.

On Sunday, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, the sponsor of SB 408, released a response to a call from Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey for the governor to veto the bill. Fasano's op-ed called the bill bad for policy holders and good for insurance company profits and highlighted a provision that allows insurers to raise rates by up to 15 percent to cover reinsurance costs.

"I cannot simply watch from the sidelines as a 17-year career politican mischaracterizes and demonizes badly needed public policy reforms," Richter wrote in response to Fasano. He accused Fasano of being "intentionally misleading."

Richter argued that the bill doesn't guarantee that rates will increase 15 percent. The increases related to reinsurance costs still need approval from the Office of Insurance Regulation, he said. Richter also rebutted Fasano's claim that the bill requires homeowners to pay for some repairs in advance and hope to be reimbursed.

"In fact, the bill specifically states that an insurer is prohibited from requiring the policyholder to advance payment to replace property," Richter said. For dwelling repairs, the insurer is required to pay actual cash value up front, and pay amounts necessary to preform repairs as the work is finished. The bill also gives consumers the option of buying a higher-priced policy that would cover replacement value up front instead of actual value.

Richter ended his statement with another slam at Fasano: "We arrived at the current situation and need for reform due to career politicans looking for sound bites and poll numbers instead of trying to understand the complex issues necessary to make truly sound decisions about insurance reform."

Richter's response followed a statement released Friday by Property Casualty Insurers Association of America that also bashed Fasano for his "crusade" to kill the bill.

On Monday, Policy Holders of Florida joined the fray, defending Fasano.

"I commend Senator Fasano for standing up for consumers," said Sean Shaw, a former insurance consumer advocate and founder of Policy Holders of Florida. "The legislature bowed to insurance lobbyists, which is nothing new, so now the only thing standing between rate hikes and consumers is Governor Rick Scott. He should do the right thing and veto this bill."

One thing to note: The SB 408 awaiting Scott's signature bears very little resemblence to the bill Richter actually sponsored. The House rejected Richter's proposal, which would have freed insurance companies from offering comprehensive sinkhole coverage. The text of SB 408 is actually the House bill, which still requires comprehensive sinkhole coverage, but limits it to structural damage of primary buildings, and strictly defines "structural damage." The bill shortens the window for filing claims for damage caused by storms from five years to three years after a storm hits.

Posted by Janet Zink at 11:37:08 am on May 16, 2011