Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Tale Of Two Citizens

Gannett Corporation's superb reporter, Tallahassee-based Paige St. John, reports today that state legislators are beginning to fashion "major proposals" for overhauling Florida's state-owned insurer, Citizens Property Insurance.

Due to whimsical editing, however, different versions of St. John's report can be found in different Gannett news outlets in Florida. It's like A Tale of Two Citizens -- or do we mean Two Tales of One Citizens?

To get the whole story, you have to read both newspapers.

"What to do about Citizens Property Insurance?" St. John asks. In the Ft. Myers News-Press she says, "Increasingly, the answer is to do away with much of it." For Pensacola readers, the News Journal version says the answer can be found only "in some circles."

Both newspapers include the reporter's observation that today statehouse Democrats will "put forth their proposal to get out of the business of selling hurricane policies directly to homeowners and have Florida cover insurance companies instead."
In Rep. Anne Gannon's plan, no matter where you live, storm coverage for homes under $1 million would be folded into the general policy bought from private insurers.

Companies in turn would pay into a newly created Hurricane Insurance Fund — and draw money out of it to pay hurricane claims.

For the homeowner, "it would be like conventional insurance," said Gannon, D-Delray Beach, and a co-sponsor of the Hurricane Insurance Fund idea."
What the Pensacola paper doesn't say is that Gannon's plan "mirrors similar private meetings among Florida's most powerful business lobbies." The Florida Association of Insurance Agents -- that is, a consortium of local agents who sell you insurance, not the companies who provide it -- earlier advanced a proposal "to model storm coverage after federal flood insurance, guaranteed by government but managed by private insurers and their agents."

Moreover, St. John's report includes for the benefit of Ft. Myers readers news that, "Leaders of the state's banking, building and insurance industries have been gathering for a month to discuss the fate of Citizens."

On the other hand, Pensacola readers are told what the Ft. Myers version doesn't mention:
Citizens' own executives like the idea of dismantling much of their company.

Hurricane exposure is "an uninsurable risk" in Florida, Citizens Executive Director Bob Ricker said. The state is better served if it gives up trying to convince insurers to take on a gamble that could kill a company, he said.

"I personally believe the core issue is the risk of ruin that private insurers face for the hurricane exposure. If you can address that in a facility other than Citizens, we could get rid of a majority of our policies."
Other than caprice, it's not readily apparent why two different Gannett editors felt compelled to truncate St. John's article as each did.

Paige St. John is one of the state's best investigative reporters, as shown by her sterling work over the past year exposing the insurance industry's myriad problems. (It's probably that Midwestern upbringing.) Gannett is fortunate to have her.

But instead of one good reporter and two editors, wouldn't it make more sense to pay just one editor and use the rest of the money to clone a second Paige St. John?

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