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Fasano uses obscure committee post to blast Citizens Insurance

The gloves came off Monday and it was Rep. Mike Fasano vs. Citizens Property Insurance, Round 1 for the 2013 legislative session.

Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who was conspicuously snubbed from a post on the Banking and Insurance Committee, used his chairmanship of an obscure joint committee to berate what he believes is an anti-consumer culture at Citizens.

As chair of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, Fasano held court over a number of state agencies who had failed to comply with state laws passed by the Legislature.

Last on the list was Citizens, which was supposed to begin offering a less comprehensive—and less expensive—policy option on Jan. 1, but has not yet done so.

“You said Citizens is concerned about the consumer. I laughed at that,” said Fasano, during a spirited back-and-forth with Citizens’ legislative director. “They’re more concerned about depopulating and raising premiums.”

Citizens countered that the company was working as hard as it could to implement the new policy, called an HO-8. The new policy is scheduled to begin rollout next week.

But Fasano is not happy with the way Citizens is implementing a law passed by the Legislature in 2012. The law calls for Citizens to offer the HO-8 policy, but the company is only planning to offer it to homeowners with homes that are at least 51 years old, and worth less than $200,000.

“We believe we are following the law,” said Citizens spokesperson, Christine Ashburn. She said the HO-8 policy offered by Citizens has certain "underwriting guidelines," just like all other policies. Those guidelines--the age and value requirements--were approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation, whom Fasano also blasted.

The policy would be about 20-percent cheaper than a standard Citizens policy, but would offer less coverage. Citizens board members said they were concerned that a cheaper policy would draw people into the company, even as they were trying to push homeowners out of the state-run insurer.

Some members of the joint committee said that less coverage was better than no coverage, which is what some homeowners have been opting for after perennial rate increases at Citizens.

“I have folks in my district choosing not to insure their homes, period. That is one of the problems that we’re having,” said Rep. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderdale Lakes. “Would the HO-8 better than nothing?”

 Fasano—who criticized House leadership for not placing him on the Insurance committee—did not bite his tongue when questioning Citizens. He accused the company of not following the law, and going through the “back door” to raise rates on homeowners.

 He said the company’s “marching orders” were coming from Gov. Rick Scott, who also did not escape Fasano's sharp tongue.

“I’ll probably get some (criticism) from my Republican colleagues,” he said. “The guy on the plaza level doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it.”