NU Online News Service, May 18, 2:56 p.m. EDT
Insurers are leafing through and interpreting the massive property insurance bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Hailed as a “good first step” by Katherine Webb of Colody, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky and Abate, SB 408 contains several provisions Lisa Miller, former state deputy insurance commissioner, calls “pocketbook issues.”
Miller, who now owns lobbying firm Lisa Miller & Associates, says the bill may not completely reverse a trend of underwriting losses in the state, but it could “mitigate the losses,” or “stop the bleeding.”
Insurers and state leaders such as Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty have pointed to several cost drivers putting pressure on companies even in years without a hurricane. SB 408 may alleviate some of these concerns, but the measure should be thought of as “one part of a two-part play,” says Miller.
“This is not the wish list of the industry,” adds Webb.
Roger Desjadon, spokesperson for the Florida Property & Casualty Association (FPCA) and president of Florida Peninsula Insurance Co., says the complicated bill cures several issues plaguing the market: replacement-cost methodology and sinkholes.
Sinkholes in Florida are a “catastrophe without wind and rain,” he says, and have largely led to about 70 percent of Florida’s property writers posting underwriting losses last year. The industry has long alleged people have been gaming the system.
SB 408 “codifies what structural damage really means,” Desjadon says. “So anyone with a hole in their garden can’t say they have a sinkhole.” This provision may have the “greatest impact,” he adds.
Miller says sinkhole-related language in the bill is intended to “clear up misconceptions and lead to more fair judgments” in court.
“It gives guidance,” she adds. “Courts didn’t know what to do with [sinkholes].”
Webb, whose firm lobbies for the FPCA, says the way insurers had shelled out replacement costs “was getting out of control, probably because there were no hurricanes.”
Prior to SB 408, insurers had to give policyholders the entire replacement cost for a home repair. Here, insurers again alleged some bending of the system and suspected many repairs were never done.
With the bill, insurers can now dole out a check for the actual cash value of the repair and give another check to the homeowner when receipts are presented to prove repairs were done.
“Previously insurers had to prove the negative on sinkhole and for replacement costs,” Webb says.
Policyholders will also be given the option of two policies for replacement costs on home contents. They can either buy a full replacement-cost policy for contents or a presumably cheaper hold-back policy.
Desjadon says “no one got hoodwinked” by the legislation, as has been alleged by some consumer and attorney groups in Florida since the bill was signed into law.
Groups have also alleged that a provision allowing an expedited rate filing to recoup up to 15 percent of reinsurance costs amounts to a free pass for insurers to raise rates. The Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) must look at this type of filing within 45 days, not 90 days.
“But the fact of the matter is that the OIR will scrutinize it just the same as they always have,” Desjadon says. “Just because they have to look at it sooner doesn’t mean they will put blinders on when they do.”
Samuel Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, says rates will be “dramatically less with this bill than without it” because the bill goes after these key cost drivers.
“The truth is most Floridians haven’t filed an abusive sinkhole claim and they haven’t taken advantage of the replacement cost value, but they are all paying for those who do,” he said.
There were some missed opportunities during the Legislative Session. Lisa Miller says there was no legislation passed to prevent state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. from competing with the private market.
“There was no reduction in the subsidies for those resting comfortably in Citizens,” she says.
Nevertheless, other provisions should help improve the bottom lines of insurers. Public adjusters, blamed by the industry for having more than a little to do with the abuse of prior sinkhole and replace-cost statutes, face additional scrutiny and limits on commissions.
Additionally, homeowners will not be permitted to wait five years to file a claim after a storm. That timeframe has been narrowed to three years by SB 408.
According to Highline Data the top writer of personal property in Florida in 2010 was the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. with a 15.3 percent market share.
Falling behind Citizens were State Farm, with a 13 percent market share, Universal Insurance (8 percent), Tower Hill Insurance (4.7 percent), and USAA (4.6 percent).
Highline Data is a part of Summit Business Media, which also owns National Underwriter.