NU Online News Service, Nov. 18, 2:01 p.m. EST

Leadership in Florida seems committed to shrinking the size of the state’s exposures to a major hurricane, says Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute.

“It appears they understand prices need to increase at Citizens Property Insurance Corp.,” Hartwig says. “They should also be encouraging greater private-sector involvement.”

Citizens, the state entity set up to be the Sunshine State’s insurer of last resort, has become Florida’s largest property insurer. Though recent legislation has allowed Citizens to gradually increase rates, past efforts to artificially depress rates has kept Citizens in competition with the private market.

“Florida is on the right track but its problems will not be solved overnight,” Hartwig says. “It will take [Gov. Rick Scott’s] entire first term and probably beyond that. The problems of Florida can only be solved gradually.”

That is because the new attitude to permit rate increases at Citizens and among primary carriers cannot immediately dig Florida out of the hole it dug due to legislatively suppressing rates following busy hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005. Actuarial soundness can only be achieved over time unless insurers are permitted to institute enormous rate increases.

Insurers would like to see more legislation making it more difficult for new leadership to come in and change the progress that has been made, Hartwig notes.

Direct-written premiums in homeowners’ multi-peril increased 9.2 percent compared to an increase of 4.9 percent in the rest of the U.S. in 2010

However, in 2008, direct written premiums in Florida decreased 15.6 percent in 2008 compared to a 0.5 percent increase for the rest of the U.S.

Hartwig recently gave a presentation in Orlando, Fla. at the Annual Insurance Summit. The economist’s comprehensive slideshow outlines the insurance industry’s role in Florida’s growth as the state recovers from the overall U.S. economic crisis.

Florida’s economy sank faster than the rest of the U.S, as the real-estate bubble burst and unemployment rose.

Scott and other officials are also leading a charge to reform the state’s no-fault law, which requires drivers to buy $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP).

Hartwig’s presentation reveals fraud and abuse in the state’s PIP system has cost Floridians $1 billion since 2009.

This fraud and abuse has basically attached a “fraud tax” to insurance rates. In 2011, this average estimated fraud tax is $57.60 per vehicle in Florida.