McCarty Denies Bill Means Automatic Rate Hikes; Urges Crist to Sign It

May 12, 2010

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist may have just received an important nod he needs to be able to sign a homeowners insurance bill headed towards his desk.

In a letter, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty is urging Crist to sign the latest property insurance bill, SB2044, sponsored by Sen. Garreett Richter, R-Naples, which lawmakers passed on the final day of the legislative session.

“This bill strikes an appropriate balance that will have lasting benefits for the people of Florida,” McCarty wrote to Crist this week.

McCarty said reports that the bill would mean automatic 10 percent price hikes are wrong. “There is nothing in this bill that mandates any rate increases,” McCarty wrote.

Crist has previously said he would to veto any legislation that favors insurers by raising premiums. Last year, he vetoed a bill to deregulate rates charged by some insurers.

The new legislation, SB2044, is an omnibus bill that addresses multiple issues including putting a three-year limit on the filing of claims after a storm and streamlining the process for insurers to seek rate hikes to cover reinsurance costs.

As opposed to triggering rate hikes, McCarty said the bill extends protections against rate hikes that otherwise would expire in 2011. Without the legislation, he said insurers could raise rates without first getting approval by his Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR). The bill will make sure that “all potential rate increases are reviewed and approved or rejected by OIR prior to one penny being paid by consumers,” he wrote.

Also, while there is a provision in SB2044 to allow reinsurers to recoup certain reinsurance and inflation costs up to 10 percent of premium, McCarty said that OIR must also approve these changes. “Any suggestion otherwise is false,” he wrote.

McCarty said he supports the provisions in SB2044 that attempt to control costs, including those designed to regulate public adjusters who have been reopening thousands of claims dating back to 2005 and setting a three year filing limitation on storm claims.

“I certainly understand the important role public adjusters play in making sure consumers are fairly treated following a catastrophic event,” McCarty said. “However, placing limits on their commission and making sure claims are filed in a timely manner benefits all Floridians by keeping costs down and preventing unpredictable assessments as much as five years after a storm.”

The commissioner said he also supports the bill’s provision allowing insurers to withhold some funds on replacement costs claims until the property owner shows proof that the money is actually going into repairs.

“This proposal achieves the public policy goal of ensuring damaged homes are hardened and protected from further harm, while simultaneously cracking down on those who seek to take advantage of loopholes in the current law,” he told Crist.

McCarty also praised sections of the legislation that raise the minimum capital requirements for insurers in the state from $5 million to $15 million, give his agency more authority to check payments made by insurers to affiliated managing general agencies, and instruct OIR to build a new Web site where consumers can find information on shopping for insurance.

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