April 29, 2016

Florida's insurance commissioner: the most important person in state government most people don't know

McCarty by Cohn BandIt is the most powerful job in state government most people can’t name.

Florida’s insurance commissioner has the unfettered ability to affect the cost of living in the state. From the property insurance policy of every homeowner, to the workers’ compensation plans of every employer, to millions of automobile, life insurance, medical malpractice and health care claims, the insurance commissioner has the final say on how much those rates will rise, and how much they fall — if at all.

The 262-person Office of Insurance Regulation touches nearly every aspect of life in Florida, from birth to death. It acts as the state’s financial sleuth, deciding if every one of those companies is financially sound enough to take on new customers, and when they are troubled enough to be shut down.

And with the stroke of a pen — and within the confines of the policies written by the Florida Legislature — the commissioner has the final say on which losses customers will pay — and which ones insurance companies must reimburse.

For the last 13 years, the job has been held by Kevin McCarty, a 27-year state bureaucrat, lawyer and graduate of the University of Florida, who steered Florida’s complex insurance market past so many obstacles he has become one of the most recognized experts in managing catastrophe in the country.

On Tuesday, McCarty, 57, will officially retire from the agency, to be replaced by David Altmaier, 34, McCarty’s deputy commissioner for Property Casualty Insurance. But for the last four months, the two Cabinet officials who by law must agree on McCarty’s successor — Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — were locked in an unprecedented feud over whose candidate will replace him.

The standoff underscored the political potency of the job, which not only impacts people’s pocketbooks but is a crucial cog in the state’s economic engine. More here.

Photo: Kevin McCarty, Florida Insurance Commissioner at a Miami Herald editorial board meeting, July 9, 2009. MARICE COHN BAND Miami Herald file photo

January 30, 2014

U.S. Senate passes flood insurance protection plan but House raises hurdle

From Associated Press:

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners in coastal and flood-prone areas would win protection from sharply higher federal flood insurance premiums under legislation muscled through the Senate on Thursday after angry constituents inundated Capitol Hill with complaints.

The 67-32 vote reflects widespread alarm about changes enacted two years ago to shore up the program's finances. In many cases the changes produced unexpected, sky-high insurance rates that are unaffordable for many homeowners in flood-prone areas whose insurance has historically been subsidized by the government and other policyholders.

"Something is just terribly wrong when homeowners are more worried about raging flood premiums than they are about raging floods," said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

The bill would delay for up to four years huge premium increases that are supposed to phase in next year and beyond under new and updated government flood maps. It also would allow homeowners to pass below-cost policies on to people who buy their homes. People who have recently bought homes and face sharp, immediate jumps in their premiums would see those increases rolled back. More here.