Florida can’t get past ‘duh’ on property insurance reform
Florida has a property insurance problem. Rates are already high and headed higher. The issue is so pressing that the governor called lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a special session. There is no single solution to this complex challenge, but one vein to mine: Dig deep into why so many insurance companies have failed in Florida recently. "Well, duh," you might say. "That's too obvious." Maybe so, but unfortunately on this important question, Florida hasn't moved past "duh."
The last hurricane hit Florida in 2018. Since then, seven property insurers have gone belly up, four of them in the last 13 months. A few others are on shaky financial footing. As required by law, the Department of Financial Services writes a report on each insurance company that fails. But as the Times' Lawrence Mower reported this week, the department often doesn't release those financial autopsies until years after the company went under. The Times asked for reports on five of the insurers that had failed since 2014. The department had finished only one. The framers crafted the U.S. Constitution in 116 days. Stephen King wrote "The Shining" in less than six weeks. Can the state not release a report about an insolvent insurance company in less than a year?
Worse yet, few people know about the reports - people who should know. Multiple insurance trade groups including the Federal Association for Insurance Reform told the Times they didn't know the reports existed. Only two state lawmakers - Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach - request or were sent the reports, a spokesperson for the Department of Financial Services said.
Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Tasha Carter said last year that she wasn't aware of the reports, and her spokesperson did not answer questions recently about whether that had changed. That's right. The state's insurance consumer advocate - whose website says the office is "committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians" - hadn't as of last year read any of the reports which could provide clues on how to carry out that mission. We'd like to think that this is just a lack of awareness, and not indifference or negligence.
It would also help if more lawmakers and state leaders actually read them. Sen. Brandes has pushed for requiring the board of directors of failed insurance companies to hold public hearings about what went wrong and how other companies can avoid a similar fate. After all, their failure costs us money. And should they profit from their own mistakes?
There is a lot more to the property insurance crisis than reports on failed companies - rampant litigation, reinsurance costs and building requirements top many lists. But writing and distributing these reports is low hanging fruit, low cost and easy to do. On this important issue, let's at least get beyond "duh." - Tampa Bay Times
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