TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers want to bring the “hammer” down on “bad actors” in the property insurance industry, and they are moving quickly to send a new legislative proposal to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The push comes just three weeks after former President Donald Trump accused DeSantis of bailing out the politically-powerful industry and said the governor had “crushed homeowners” following Hurricane Ian.
The state Senate this week rolled out a so-called insurer accountability package that would sharply increase fines against wayward insurers and place more regulatory responsibilities with a state agency.
But the legislation will likely do little to slow the double-digit rate hikes insurance carriers have proposed for the coming year ahead of the next hurricane season. Florida’s property insurance market has been teetering on the brink of collapse in recent years, leaving some companies in insolvency, pushing up premiums and sending many homeowners to Citizens, an insurer of last resort.
The Washington Post reported in March that some insurers had altered damage assessments and lowered claims totals for homes damaged by Hurricane Ian, which pummeled the state last year.
Trump — who’s been swiping at DeSantis as the Republican considers a presidential run — ripped into the governor last month over the issues, saying in a social media post that “RINO Ron DeSanctimonious is delivering the biggest insurance BAILOUT to Globalist Insurance Companies, in HISTORY.”
“He’s also crushed homeowners whose houses were destroyed in the Hurricane,” Trump wrote. “They’re getting pennies on the dollar. … This is the worst insurance scam in the entire COUNTRY!”
Legislators and DeSantis have already responded to the crisis over the last 18 months, handing the insurance industry a tremendous victory by enacting a sweeping new law in March that places limits on lawsuits on insurers. Last year, the state set aside $2 billion in taxpayer money to offer insurers additional insurance coverage on their plans.
The changes so far aren’t doing anything to immediately curb rate hike requests. State Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican whose own home was severely damaged by Hurricane Ian, said she warned insurers last year “there will be hell to pay” unless insurers lowered their rates.
The new insurer accountability package would place more regulatory responsibilities on the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation, which would be charged with examining how insurers handle claims and run their operations. It would prohibit bonuses to officers and directors of an insurer that is impaired or insolvent. The state House is expected to consider similar legislation.
The “idea is we are not only going to hit those bad actors a little harder, but we’re going to make sure everyone is going to know who those bad actors are,” Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican and bill sponsor of the bill, SPB 7052, said at a committee hearing Wednesday.
But there is already a great deal of skepticism about the new proposal.
Locke Burt, a former GOP state senator and CEO and chair of Security First Insurance, said that a lot of what is in the Senate bill is “eyewash” and that several portions touted by its proponents are already done by state regulators, including one that calls on insurers to consider the impact of other recent legislation.
He also said state legislators are not doing anything to address rising costs of reinsurance, which is backup financing required of the carriers — essentially, insurance for insurers. Burt said his reinsurance costs are poised to go up 40 percent this year, which means he will be seeking a rate hike for his company.
“I think what the Legislature is trying to do is reduce rates and the bill is not going to do that,” Burt said. “I think the Legislature is trying to attract additional capital to Florida, and the bill is not going to do that. I think the people that wrote the bill didn’t think about the law of unintended consequences.”
Burt said one provision could result in insurers halting the writing of all new policies during hurricane season.
Jeff Brandes, a former Republican state senator who just launched a nonprofit looking at policy issues, called the legislation the “Citizens supernova act” that will cause that carrier to continue to swell in size. He too contended it will do nothing to reduce rates. He added that it will add regulatory burdens to carriers and he doubted that state regulators have the staff to carry out the new responsibilities.
“Honestly, the Legislature needs to deal with reinsurance this session and let the dust settle until next year,” Brandes said. “It’s a massive problem that could cause the failure and withdrawal of companies prior to hurricane season.”
Burt, as well as some insurance industry representatives who testified on Wednesday, pointed to one part of the bill that would require insurers to hand over claims manuals and other information to regulators as a potential boon to lawyers who sue the industry.
Stephen Cain, a South Florida attorney and incoming president of the Florida Justice Association, welcomed the legislation during his remarks before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.
“It’s nice to see companies being put under a microscope,” Cain said. “We’ve seen reform after reform directed at restricting homeowners rights all the while insurance companies have been left to plunder profits from the state on the backs of homeowners.”