Fla. Gov. Fails To Name Consumer Advocate To Citizens Board

By Charles Elmore, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 29--Gov. Rick Scott still has not appointed a consumer representative to the board of state-run insurer Citizens, a position created July 1, though other Scott appointees took their place at a board meeting Wednesday.

"We are reviewing it, and there is no timeline for an appointment to be made," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

West Palm Beach homeowner Brian Dolan said he would like to think somebody is looking out for his interests. He said he had to scramble to keep his Citizens coverage, which cost about $6,700 last year, from being transferred to a private insurer charging more than $19,000. He's retired and on fixed income and such an increase could force him out of a home where he has lived for 40 years, he said.

"What does this guy sitting up in Tallahassee think we're supposed to do?" Dolan said. "The insurance companies are killing us, and this guy just does not care."

Last week Scott announced the appointment of James Holton and the reappointment of John Wortman to the board, filling eight of what are now nine board seats. Other Cabinet and legislative leaders appoint two board members each.

A law passed last spring, SB 1770, creates a ninth board position that is appointed by the governor and "serves solely to advocate on behalf of the consumer." The law's effective date was July 1 of last year.

That consumer representation is absent as 2014 begins with a board dominated by members with backgrounds in business generally or insurance in particular.

Holton, 59, of St. Petersburg, is the president of Holton Companies and has previously served as chairman of the Florida Transportation Commission, and as a member of the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors.

Wortman, 73, of Ponte Vedra, is a consultant with Wortman Capital Associates and has nearly five decades of experience in the insurance industry.

Dolan said he is concerned about, among other things, executive travel offshore and to Europe and "living high on the hog" while ordinary homeowners pick up the tab.

Citizens officials noted Friday they recently traveled to Bermuda to gather information on private reinsurance contracts, though they do not have a final total on how much they want to spend on such coverage this year. Board members approved the concept of renewing contracts for more than $1.5 billion of private reinsurance coverage, though details of costs for that or any additional purchases would come before the board later.

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A report by the governor's inspector general last year criticized Citizens for weak controls on travel and other spending. Company officials vowed to adopt tougher standards.

A clearinghouse launched Monday won't give consumers a choice to take or retain Citizens coverage if a private insurer is offering comparably priced coverage, though many homeowners are wary of mistakes that could cost them money. More than 14,000 customers received letters with erroneously high Citizens renewal premiums under a pre-clearinghouse transfer offer from a private insurer this month, The Palm Beach Post reported.

Citizens president Barry Gilway called the clearinghouse launch "almost flawless" and said it processed more than 1,000 inquiries the first day.

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(c)2014 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

Visit The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) at www.palmbeachpost.com

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