Florida’s modest step in homeowners insurance

This article represents the opinion of the Editorial Board of the Tampa Bay Times.

Florida lawmakers set modest goals for this week’s special session on homeowners insurance, and that’s exactly what they accomplished. The handful of reforms are not likely to make a dent in the rapid rate increases, at least in the short term. It’s also unclear if the changes will bring more protections and oversight to an opaque industry. The result is the product of a disengaged Legislature and state regulators who were unprepared.

Lawmakers seemed fated to return to Tallahassee, failing to address insurance during the regular session in an election year with rates rising by double digits and insurers dumping tens of thousands of policies. On the consumer side, lawmakers are reviving a 16-year-old program that could give homeowners up to $10,000 to harden their homes against storms, which could help curb skyrocketing rates. The measures also prevent insurers from refusing to cover some homes solely because they have an older roof. For the industry, the legislation creates new access to reinsurance, a critical financial backing for insurers, and limits the amount lawyers can collect in lawsuits against insurance companies.

Changes can help, but many certainly equate to low-hanging fruit. The home hardening program, known as My Safe Florida Home, could allow thousands of homeowners to get free home inspections and matching state grants to replace their windows, doors and roofs, but the previous iteration of the program suffered from incompetence. and fraud during his two years. running year. Given their support for the program, lawmakers should have taken the opportunity to provide it with the necessary resources to make it meaningful and accountable. But lawmakers gave the program $150 million, 40% less than the $250 million the Legislature committed in 2006. Given the state’s growth, healthy reserves and the heightened risks of warmer weather, this was not the time to be fool.

Lawmakers also took steps to reduce the number of lawsuits filed against insurers for disputed claims. Carriers and Florida officials have long blamed excessive litigation by trial attorneys and fraudulent claims by roofers for rising costs. The bill limits a lawyer’s ability to charge double or triple their normal fees, except in “rare and exceptional circumstances.” It also eliminates automatic payments for attorneys awarded benefits under a lawsuit against insurers, and tightens anti-fraud provisions that govern how contractors can ask homeowners to file an insurance claim.

However, lawmakers have not done any analysis to determine what effect the legislation will have on homeowners’ rates. State officials said rates are unlikely to drop for at least 18 months. They also don’t know how many companies would take advantage of the reinsurance program. Another unknown: How much do these claims really cost insurers?

“This has been a constant source of frustration,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, told reporters Tuesday about the lack of data. “It is very difficult for us to do anything in any political area without information.”

What’s going on here? Florida’s homeowners insurance crisis and the state’s vulnerability to hurricanes is not an afterthought. Why hasn’t the speaker, the Senate president or the governor demanded some hard data and straight answers much sooner?

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“We haven’t heard from anyone from (the Office of Insurance Regulation),” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, commented Monday more than two hours after a Senate committee hearing. State Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier sat in the back of the room. This week, lawmakers did not convene expert panels or hear testimony from key state insurance officials, including the Department of Financial Services, which splits insurance regulation with Altmaier’s office. The legislation passed by the House and Senate, published less than 72 hours before the start of the special session, received only one hearing, and no serious debate or discussion was held by Republican leaders on its amendment.

As Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times noted, the Legislature, from start to finish, spent a total of three days in Tallahassee to address what most agree is a five-alarm crisis in the state’s insurance market.

Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, the Senate point person on the reforms, said he has asked Senate leaders to hold a workshop over the summer to explore the issue. We won’t hold our breath. What does it take to get the attention of Tallahassee? The Legislature found plenty of time this year to sideline gays, fight Disney World and create a new election police force. But the Office of Insurance Regulation has yet to produce data on the lawsuits against insurers that lawmakers wanted to see happen this year. Perhaps Jimmy Patronis should pay more attention to his regulatory responsibilities as the state’s CFO-elect instead of tweeting about Joe Biden’s flaws and Jacksonville’s best chicken wings.

The ever-increasing cost of homeowners insurance is a concern on the dinner table for Floridians every day. They deserve better from their state leaders.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Members of the Editorial Board are Editorial Editor Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst, and Chairman Paul Tash. To follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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