Florida knew the insurance crisis was coming. Lawmakers waged culture wars instead. | Commentary [Orlando Sentinel]
Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Thanks to Hurricane Ian, Florida is about to experience an insurance crisis that could send your already-high rates even higher, limit your insurer choices even more and cost taxpayers billions.
There’s nothing mankind could do to stop Ian. But there was plenty Florida politicians could’ve done to help prepare its insurance market.
In fact, this crisis was totally predicted. Watchdogs urged Gov. Ron DeSantis and state legislators to take action. But the politicians were more interested in screaming about critical race theory and demonizing LGBTQ families.
You know this. Think about how many stories you read about GOP lawmakers trying to pass “anti-woke” legislation vs. how many stories you read about them trying to stabilize the insurance market. Well, now you’re about to pay the price.
This is what happens when you elect people more interested in politicking than governing.
Experts are predicting everything from rising insurance costs — in a state where rates are already double the national average — to massive bills for taxpayers. The Sentinel detailed the expected fallout in a recent piece: “Hurricane Ian: Damage will drive insurance rates even higher, cripple industry.”
The default defense by the politicians who let these problems fester seems to be: Now isn’t the time for Monday-morning quarterbacking.
But that’s not what this is. These alarms weren’t set off the Monday after the game. They were sounded months ago. Years ago.
The national Insurance Journal penned a series back in 2020 entitled: “Florida Property Insurance Market Inches Closer to Crisis.” Bloomberg wrote a piece the same year: “Florida Braces for a Storm of Homeowners Insurance Rate Hikes.” By then, companies had also started fleeing Florida, and the state-run Citizens’ program was bloating.
But lawmakers did next to nothing ... and are now acting surprised.
State Sen. Jeff Brandes was one of the few Republicans who pleaded with his colleagues to do more. They did not.
So either they lacked the competence and courage to fix the problem. Or they simply didn’t care about the problem — at least as much as they cared about culture-warring. Neither option instills confidence.
Insurance reform is an admittedly complex problem. Florida is flat, surrounded by water and a frequent target for hurricanes.
Many politicians blame rampant insurance fraud for jacking up rates and driving insurers away. So then so crack down on fraud!
If Florida had a rash of burglaries, you’d target the burglars, right?
Well, then if insurance fraud is really a statewide problem, why hasn’t Florida created a statewide force with 10 times the current number of investigators and prosecutors already assigned to the cause?
Instead, Gov. Ron DeSantis created a voting-fraud force … despite a lack of evidence of problems in that arena. That was a choice.
DeSantis and legislators also made a choice when they ignored scores of insurance warnings during their legislative session last year so they could instead froth about Disney and other supposedly “woke” corporations.
Only later, in a much shorter special session on insurance, did they pay token attention to the obvious crisis. Then, they took some meaningful-but-small steps, including adding $2 billion in reinsurance relief. (To put that amount in perspective, estimators are looking at tens of billions in damage and claims.)
There was much more that could’ve been done. Aside from seriously cracking down on fraud, experts have pushed for arbitration between homeowners and insurers before lawsuits are filed. Lawmakers could’ve supported Brandes’ plan to reduce the average homeowner’s bill by $150 a year by restructuring the state’s reinsurance-fund deductible. They could’ve cracked down on the creative accounting measures some insurers use to siphon profits out of Florida to make their financial health look worse here.
But all those things would’ve taken guts and energy. It was easier to kick the can down the road — a popular tactic for a state whose unofficial motto has always been: Build now, deal with consequences later.
Flooding is another example. The potential for devastating flooding has long been known. But homeowners aren’t required to have flood insurance. Nor are basic homeowner’s policies required to cover flood damage.
So is it surprising that now, in the hardest-hit counties of Collier and Lee, only about 30% of homes have flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, according to the Tampa Bay Times?
That means most homeowners are out of luck — or taxpayers will bail them out. (We’ll soon see if the politicians like DeSantis — who said people who decided to take out college loans shouldn’t get taxpayer bailouts — feel the same way about Florida homeowners who decided not to buy flood insurance.)
The bottom line: Everyone knew these messes were coming. The politicians in charge were negligent. And you’re going to pay the price.
The question now is: What are you going to do about it?
What would you do in any other part of your life? If your financial advisor, for instance, ignored one warning after another to safeguard your portfolio and then lost the bulk of your retirement account, would you simply shrug?
And what if he had the audacity to tell you that Now isn’t the time for Monday-morning quarterbacking — even though you’d warned him time and again to safeguard your investments?
Only a fool would keep that advisor around.
Well, politics and partisanship sometimes do foolish things to people’s brains. But any clear-thinking person knows the time for excuses on Florida’s insurance crisis isn’t just over; it ended long ago.