The high living, free spending, hard partying gang running Citizens Property Insurance Corp. must rank as the least-loved outfit in Florida. Other than the Miami Marlins.
There’s much not to love. Last month, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation reported that even while the pseudo-public insurer was raising rates and jettisoning policy holders like Kardashians discarding husbands, Citizens was frittering away money.
Some $10,000 a month was wasted on rent for empty office space. Citizens couldn’t be bothered with negotiating better deals with its vendors. And Citizens executives spent lavishly on travel, as if the expense account guidelines for public servants were written for a peon underclass. Some chump homeowner seething over a 10.8 percent pop in the cost of windstorm coverage might not take kindly to Citizens execs yukking it up at a $600-a-night resort in Bermuda.
And then there was that report from Citizens’ own Office of Corporate Integrity, describing a boys-gone-wild atmosphere (with exorbitant severance packages for boys who went too far). The report told of the night Citizens staffers gathered at the Coyote Ugly bar in Tampa, exhibiting: “…a boisterous drinking environment. Women are encouraged to dance on the bar, remove their bras, and in some instances, hang their bras from the rafters.”
Braless bar-top dancing in Tampa and luxurious nights in Bermuda haven’t created the public relations image likely to bolster Citizens’s request for yet another rate increase. But an awful truth looms over Florida’s windstorm insurance crisis. A coalition of teetotaling ascetics with Wharton MBAs couldn’t stave off the coming financial disaster.
Policy holders rage that even while Citizens and its party boy managers are jacking up individual premiums, using a bogus “reinspection” program, they’re sitting on a $15 billion portfolio. It’s not enough. The so-called insurer of last resort is stuck with 1.45 million of the most hurricane vulnerable properties in the most hurricane vulnerable state. One or two biggie storms wash ashore and Citizens’ $15 billion gets blown to oblivion. Along with the shaky few private insurers still writing windstorm policies. Florida has invested about $2 trillion in the very places most likely to be smashed — along the coastline. The closer to the water, the ritzier the properties. Eight of the nation’s ten most costly hurricanes have already banged across our shores. We’ve been lucky these last seven hurricane seasons, but history says that whatever we’re paying for insurance coverage, it’s not enough.
We need a little help from our friends. We need middle Americans in Nebraska and Utah and Minnesota and West Virginia and other inland places to contribute to a national catastrophic insurance fund. “It’ll be like the federal government-backed flood insurance,” we’ll tell them. But we won’t mention that since 1978, Florida, Louisiana and the other Gulf coast states have sucked up $28 billion of the $38 billion the flood program has paid out to policy holders. Or that was paid after hurricane-related flooding.
And we should avoid mentioning that owners of 8,300 of the properties covered by federal flood insurance have made multiple claims. They were flooded. They collected. They were flooded again. They collected again. And again. It’s a mad, mindless business practice, maybe, but it’s just the kind of permissive, build-and-rebuild-in-harms-way, insurance insanity we’re going to need in the way of storm coverage for modest little places like Miami Beach.