TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet got a lot of news about Florida's insurance industry Tuesday, and all of it was bad.
State Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott, who works for CFO Jeff Atwater, reported that a work group on car insurance fraud completed its work without finding common ground on reform. "Nobody agreed on anything," Westcott said of the panel of representatives of doctors, hospitals, clinics, lawyers, and consumers. "Everybody was interested in protecting their access to this benefit."
Florida motorists are required to carry $10,000 of personal injury protection, but corruption is so rampant in the PIP program that one Miami-Dade insurer charges annual premiums of more than $3,000 (the same coverage cost $500 just three years ago). "That's crazy," Scott said, calling PIP "a $900 million tax" on Floridians. Tampa and Miami are among the nation's leading PIP fraud centers, as profiteering motorists stage accidents and file phony claims, working in collusion with pain clinics, chiropractors and lawyers.
State officials voiced criticism that the task force could not get detailed information on claims from car insurance companies. PIP fraud is now hitting taxpayers' pocketbooks so hard that it promises to be a major issue in the 2012 legislative session, as special interests fight over a pot of money consumers pay. But Westcott's work group couldn't provide any path to a solution.
On property insurance, the picture was equally gloomy, with the only consolation the fact that another unusually quiet hurricane season is coming to an end. Scott Wallace, chairman of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., said the state-run insurer of last resort would have to impose $1,100 assessments on homeowners to pay for a catastrophic once-in-100-years hurricane. Citizens insures 1.4 million Florida policyholders.
Gov. Scott got Wallace to concede that many struggling homeowners could never afford to pay that, meaning they would default on their mortgages and lose their homes. "You would never organize your life like this," Scott said.
-- Steve Bousquet