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Insurance relief? Don't count on it
By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published January 7, 2007
Memo to those anxiously awaiting the special legislative session that starts next week: Relax.
And lower your expectations.
Planning to drive up to Tallahassee next week hoping to influence debate? Save your money. You'll need it. Don't hold your breath waiting for a sizable refund check from Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run company set up as a last resort for homeowners insurance.
Why the long face, Mr. Skerritt? Haven't you noticed all those people at town hall meetings in Pasco and Hernando, the epicenter of the sinkhole territory that is driving up insurance rates? Surely all that ranting and raving will lead to something good.
Political careers will be shortened if there's no real action. State. Sen. Mike Fasano says he can't go into a restaurant or a store without someone wanting to talk about insurance.
This is the ultimate pocketbook issue. People are losing their homes and moving out of the state because of higher insurance rates. People are angry; they want answers.
Fasano and his colleagues are feeling the pressure to do something meaningful. They're grasping for solutions. He sure seems sincere when he says he plans to fight for us. But forgive my pessimism.
The simple fact is that Floridians live at ground zero for hurricanes. We got lucky in 2006, but this year could be 2005 all over again. Insurance companies are in business to make money. After the havoc of the past few years, you can't blame them for wanting to get out of the home insurance business.
Fixing insurance rates is complicated and won't be solved by slogans. And is there anyone out there who believes Florida won't endure many more catastrophic storms? The insurance companies sure don't. Agents are still processing claims.
Much is riding on the events of the next few weeks. This will be an early test of leadership for Gov. Charlie Crist. His predecessor had all the political capital in the world and plenty of leadership skills, but he couldn't crack the problem. Maybe the new governor has more energy. He'll need it for this fight.
What's the best we can hope for? News that Citizens' rates will be reduced by at least 15 percent this year and assurances against drastic rate hikes in the foreseeable future.
Citizens insures about 34 percent of all Florida residents, making it the largest insurer in the state. It isn't going anywhere, but maybe we can at least see some tangible improvements in its leadership.
This crisis requires legislators to toughen the rules on approving rate increases. But they can also give insurance companies more flexibility in the types of policies they write. Higher deductibles usually mean lower rates. Legislators also need to put aside more money for the catastrophic fund and to retrofit older homes so they can withstand hurricane winds. There isn't much anyone can do to prepare a mobile home for a hurricane.
Only 17 percent of Florida homes are built up to current code. That has to change. All the lawmakers in Tallahassee can talk for months, but when Mother Nature blows her angry wind, it won't matter.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.