Insurance worrying execs
By KRIS HUNDLEY
Published January 20, 2007
As legislators in Tallahassee struggled to address property insurance issues this week, they were responding not only to concerns of the average Florida homeowner.
Business executives - who in many cases have seen their commercial property insurance spiral to dizzying heights in the past year - are also clamoring for relief.
In a St. Petersburg Times survey conducted earlier this month, the vast majority of Tampa Bay area executives said solving the state's insurance crisis should be Gov. Charlie Crist's No. 1 economic priority, dwarfing all other business concerns.
Nearly half said they favor a move that has won widespread support among lawmakers: Forcing insurers to offer property coverage if they want to sell auto insurance in Florida.
About a third liked the idea of setting a cap on annual rate increases for insurers - an option that the legislature is considering only for the state-run Citizens Property Insurance.
But at least one free-market advocate feared price caps would backfire.
"You can't legislate fixed prices," said Neil Savage, chairman of Synovus bank. "Eventually the laws of supply and demand take over. I hope we're not just building a cap atop a boiling pan of water that's going to explode."
About one-third of the executives said they had increased their company's deductible in an effort to control their insurance costs. But an equal number has not taken any such move.
And while businesses are apparently feeling the pain of higher property insurance costs, the executives were surprisingly vague about the details. More than half said they didn't know how much their insurance bill had risen in 2006. Fourteen percent said their insurance at least doubled.
Arnie Stenberg, chief financial officer at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, wishes he could forget his institution's 2006 property insurance bill. It rose a stupefying 860 percent over the previous year. And insurers were so reluctant to take risk that the total package had to be parceled out among 12 different carriers vs. three carriers in 2005. The hospital's windstorm coverage dropped by 33 percent while the windstorm deductible went up 66 percent.
"What draws people attention is the individual property insurance issue," Stenberg said. "The commercial side is much less focused. But it's a tough issue."
Times staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report. Kris Hundley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 892-2996.
Earlier this month, the Times conducted telephone interviews with area business leaders about the business climate. Here are excerpts from the annual survey dealing with Florida's property insurance crisis:
By what percent did your Florida business property insurance costs go up in 2006?
6% 1 to 9%
5% 10 to 19%
8% 20 to 29%
2% 30 to 39%
1% 40 to 49%
2% 50 to 59%
1% 60 to 69%
0% 70 to 79%
1% 80 to 89%
0% 90 to 99%
6% 100 to 199%
0% 200 to 299%
8 % 300% or more
56% Don't know/no answer
What steps are you taking to reduce your business property insurance bill (multiple answers accepted)?
33% Increasing your deductible
33% Not taking any steps
16% Decreasing your coverage
2% Dropping coverage entirely
20% Don't know
Which of these steps should the Legislature take in 2007 to ease the insurance crisis?
47% Require insurers to offer property insurance if they offer auto insurance in Florida
41% Make it easier for insurers to tap the state's catastrophe fund after a hurricane
31% Set a cap on annual rate increases for insurers
24% Spend more state money on hurricane-proofing homes
10% Let the state-run Citizens Property Insurance cover all wind risk in the state
12% Don't know
What should be the No. 1 economic priority for Gov. Charlie Crist?
60% Solving the insurance crisis
16% Tax relief
7% Improving public education
5% Attracting technology businesses to the state
3% General state budget issues
3% Housing costs
6% Other (fewer than three mentions)
[Last modified January 19, 2007, 22:58:29]
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