TALLAHASSEE -- Property insurance rates across the state could shoot up much faster beginning next year under a massive new proposal being drafted in the Florida Legislature.
The proposal, released in draft form Wednesday, shows that lawmakers’ attempts to reform Citizens Property Insurance could have costly repercussions for millions of property owners.
“We’ve all seen that artificially suppressing rates is a recipe for disaster,” said Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Chair David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. “When you cause a private company to not be able to make a profit, what do they do? They do what we have seen. They have a flight from the state of Florida.”
Simmons disputed the claim that the proposal would lead to higher rates and said there would likely be several amendments to address any concerns.
The bill is full of enticements long-coveted by private insurers and business groups, who wield considerable political power but regularly face legislative defeats because of the pocketbook implications of their requests. The latest proposal gives insurance companies more latitude to raise premiums faster and weakens their top competition — Citizens — by forcing it to charge higher prices.
One measure in the 34-page bill is particularly telling: It changes a legal mandate that insurance in Florida be “affordable,” adding new language requiring premium prices to “reflect the risks covered.” It also mandates that Citizens charge prices that are higher than what’s available in the private market.
Because the proposal could have a multibillion dollar pocketbook impact on millions of homeowners in coming years, it is likely to face opposition from lawmakers in South Florida and the Tampa Bay area, where insurance costs are highest.
Any rate increases engendered by the bill would likely hit homeowners in 2014, right as campaigns for primary and general elections in the Legislature heat up. Also up for reelection: Gov. Rick Scott, who has said lowering the cost of living is one of his top governing principles. Scott could face former Gov. Charlie Crist, who froze Citizens’ insurance rates while in office and mandated “affordable” coverage, saving homeowners millions of dollars.
Throughout his governorship, Scott has steered clear of making specific proposals for property insurance reform, while simultaneously pushing Citizens’ board to aggressively shrink the company. The board’s actions have led to hundreds of millions of dollars in price hikes and coverage reductions. Scott has expressed concern that Citizens is undercutting the private market with its rates and could leave taxpayers liable to assessments after a once-in-a-lifetime storm.
The new proposal seeks to address that concern, along with several others. It includes the following provisions:
Citizens must charge rates that are higher than average rates in the private market.
Insurance companies may use an “insurance inflation factor” to raise premiums faster than currently allowed by law.
Insurance companies, including Citizens, may charge homeowners additional fees to help cover the cost of backup insurance.
Insurance companies can charge rates that are higher than what regulators traditionally allow, if homeowners agree to the higher charges.