Several bills that empower the insurance industry this session pose a massive threat to consumers, with little opposition from lawmakers in sight, lawmakers and consumer advocates warned Tuesday.
"What an economic disaster that these bills would incur on the state of Florida that no one, no one in the state of Florida would have sinkhole coverage," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
He and Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, spoke at a press conference of Policyholders of Florida, a new bipartisan group led by former Insurance Consumer Advocate and Tampa attorney Sean Shaw.
"There is nothing partisan about being repulsed by unregulated rate hikes and the raiding of consumer protections," Kriseman said.
Here are the five bills they deem "big insurance giveaways":
SB 1714/HB 1243, which allows Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to raise its rates as high as 25 percent annually.
SB 1462/HB 4115, which denies the insurance consumer advocate from giving grades to insurance companies.
SB 1330/HB 0885, which takes away the Office of Insurance Regulation's ability to approve rate hikes and allows companies to increase rates by 30 percent or less each year.
SB 408/HB 803, which strikes the requirement that companies provide sinkhole coverage, shortens the time period for claim filing and cuts up-front claims.
SB 1592/HB 1187, which limits a consumer's ability to sue his or her insurance company
Kriseman had particular disdain for SB 408, a copy of which he held up for news cameras, flanked by a rainbow of sticky notes. "In my five years of service in the Legislature, I can't recall a bill that was so obviously written by the industry and not by a legislative staff," Kriseman said, calling it the "holy grail" for the property insurance industry.
Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, told reporters after the press conference that rate hikes are coming this year. "Rate increases are inevitable whether these bills pass or not," he said.
Miller said the industry needs to stop 99 percent of sinkhole claims that are fraudulent, as people use claims money to pay off their mortgages and purchase other items. He also mentioned that fraudulent hurricane claims are a huge problem for the industry. He also said the cost-driver package is supported by the Office of Insurance Regulation and CFO Jeff Atwater.
Shaw, who did not attend the conference because his plane was delayed, suggested that a more consumer-oriented approach to repairing the marketplace would be to define a sinkhole, thus knocking out hairline-crack claims that are fraudulent but keeping people with valid sinkhole claims. He understands there are problems in the industry, but this is a "drastic over-correction."
"To give them everything they ask for -- rate, and make it harder to sue em, and make it harder to file a claim, and shorten the time to make a claim, and we don't have to offer sinkhole coverage? Gosh."
The news conference took place right before the Senate Budget committee passed SB408, a sweeping property insurance reform bill which has just one more committee stop before it hits the Senate floor.
Fasano introduced multiple amendments to make the bill more friendly to consumers, and had success on two big ones. One would require insurers to get state approval for rate changes before implementing them. Another requires insurance companies to pay replacement costs of lost property instead of paying just actual value until provided proof of expenditures by claimants.