The Citizens board has cut back coverage, advanced a massive home re-inspection program and proposed uncapped rates on new policies.
The result is higher rates for less coverage, with homeowners facing huge spikes in insurance costs.
THE BACK DOOR
Citizens raised rates 10.8 percent last year, costing homeowners statewide an estimated $250 million. The company sent inspectors to the homes of 360,000 Floridians, causing premiums to jump by $800, on average, for the vast majority of those targeted in the program.
Both Citizens’ critics and its board chairman, Carlos Lacasa, say the insurer is following through with Scott’s wishes.
“Through the back door, he [Scott] is putting pressure on Gilway and the board to do certain things,” Fasano said. “But what he doesn’t realize is that the pressure he’s putting on them to shrink [Citizens] is having a negative effect on a lot of homeowners in this state.”
While critics such as Fasano blame Scott for insurance rate increases, the governor maintains a limited view of his role in the property insurance debate.
Asked what he has done to address the state’s property insurance problem, he said he has invited companies to come to Florida and warned homeowners of the hidden risk of taxpayer-backed insurance that will force higher assessments if a hurricane strikes.
Citizens has a $15 billion portfolio and a record amount of cash after seven years with no hurricanes, but a Category 5 storm could wipe out its reserves. That would lead to so called “hurricane taxes” on most consumers.
The company was created in 2002 to help provide coverage for those who could not find it in the private market, which shrunk after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Rates at Citizens are lower than what risk experts believe the company should be charging, but often higher than what homeowners can afford.
Fiscal conservatives say the government-run company is forcing inland residents to “subsidize” those near Florida’s coast.
“I don’t believe that I ought to be subsidized by people who live in Lakeland,” said Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who lives in a waterfront home.
A bill now being debated in the state Senate would create major changes to Citizens, requiring the company to charge higher rates than in the private market.
But Scott, whose 2010 platform promised to work with the Legislature to “ensure that Citizens consistently operates on actuarially sound rates,” said he has not read the bill. “I ran on jobs and education,” Scott said.
The politics at Citizens has always been thorny. The company has issued 1.2 million policies that cover nearly a quarter of Florida’s electorate, and voters are quick to blame government-controlled insurance rates on elected officials. The Republican majority often breaks apart along geographical lines when it comes to Citizens, with coastal constituents telling their lawmakers to vote against rate increases.
“I just received my Citizens homeowner’s insurance [bill], and I am appalled,” Karen Fitzgerald of Miami-Dade wrote to Scott.
Barbara Costa, who moved to Pasco County from the West Coast, said her insurance costs in Florida are three times higher than in California — “even with earthquakes, mudslides and wildfires.”
A SLAP IN THE FACE
The emails flooding Scott’s inbox have become more hostile, as allegations of Citizens’ corporate misconduct and executive spending have surfaced. Homeowners complain that their premium increases are more discouraging when they hear about various management problems at Citizens.
In the past year, Scott has twice called for his inspector general to investigate allegations of waste and excess by Citizens executives. But the makeup of the board remains unchanged.
“I’m for making sure Citizens operates properly,” Scott said. “The raises were ridiculous ... We’re not paying for alcohol. They ought to have an inspector general. We ought to make sure the place works right, first.”