Former Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty — who was both criticized and praised by insurance executives and lobbyists — has been elected chairman of a group advocating changes to the state's controversial "assignment of benefits" laws. McCarty's election as chairman of the Florida Association for Insurance Reform's board came one month after McCarty joined the group, according to a news release.

McCarty in a prepared statement said FAIR is a unique group because of its "commitment to advancing the dialogue among diverse stakeholders with the ultimate objective of providing quality insurance products at affordable prices."

Among the group's priorities is making changes to assignment of benefits, or AOB as it is widely known.

Assignment of benefits occurs when policyholders assign their coverage benefits to contractors. The insurance industry and business groups have unsuccessfully lobbied the Legislature in recent years to change the assignment-of-benefits process, arguing that it leads to fraud, litigation and increased costs.

Issues involved in the debate include "one way attorney's fees," which insurers can be required to pay. While assignment of benefits is nothing new, it has become high-profile because of increased claims for water damage to homes, particularly in South Florida.

Also, a large number of AOB cases stem from automobile policies. While insurers and business groups say assignment of benefits is driving up premiums, many contractors and trial attorneys say the practice helps ensure that insurance companies properly pay claims.

Jay Neal, president and CEO of the Florida Association for Insurance Reform, noted that McCarty and Sonja Larkin-Thorne, who was elected vice-chair of the group, have a combined 57 years of experience in the insurance industry.

"I'm certain that their background and extensive knowledge will bring the organization to a new level in helping to achieve its goals," Neal said. McCarty became Florida's first appointed insurance commissioner in 2003 and worked for former Gov. Jeb Bush, former Gov. Charlie Crist and Gov. Rick Scott, who forced McCarty to resign in 2016. After leaving his post, McCarty founded Celtic Global Consulting.