Sunday, December 19, 2004

Show Us Some Warmth

"Handling of insurance claims affects the greatest number of Floridians and carries the biggest immediate financial need. Yet it remains largely un-addressed in Florida."-- Paige St. John
Paige St. John, writing from Tallahassee for Gannett's Florida Today, reported late last evening that the Department of Financial Services has admitted 170,000 hurricane insurance claims still are unresolved. St. John's investigative report strongly suggests some of the blame belongs on state legislators, including our own Charlie Clary, who preferred to "talk" last week rather than act on a proposal to impose settlement deadlines on insurance companies.
Nearly one in five Floridians whose homes were damaged by hurricanes up to four months ago have yet to come to a settlement with their insurers.

Information released by the state Office of Insurance Regulation shows more than 170,000 claims remain open. The policyholders who filed them are increasingly frustrated.

* * *
Handling of insurance claims affects the greatest number of Floridians and carries the biggest immediate financial need. Yet it remains largely un-addressed in Florida.

Lawmakers in special session last week failed to take up the topic.

An emergency rule sought by CFO Tom Gallagher to impose claims deadlines resulted only in a requirement that insurance CEO's acknowledge they may be judged by how well they meet target dates: Nov. 22 for hurricanes Charley and Frances, and Dec. 8 for hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne.
The intrepid St. John, who has an admirable knack for grabbing the money quote, hauled in this gem from a prominent state senator, sounding a little like David Simon's street-wise character Bunk ("Feel the love") Moreland:
Insurance coverage should be a quilt against cold times, said Sen. Rudy Garcia, chairman of the Senate banking and insurance committee.

"I don't think the people of Florida feel the warmth," Garcia said.
St. John also unearths some rarely reported facts:
  • Hartford Fire Insurance has reported 72 percent claims closed.
  • Mobile USA, an insurer of mobile homes, reports 59 percent closed.
  • Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run insurer, has closed 58 percent of its claims.
  • As she has done before, the capital bureau reporter deftly adds context -- in this case, the context of state insurance law -- to her investigative report and anecdotal tales of woe from individual policy holders still shivering throughout the Blue Roof State.
    In Florida, there is no law requiring claims to be settled within a certain time, a point state regulators note when reviewing late claims complaints against insurance companies even during ordinary times.

    Senate President Tom Lee said it is worth scrutiny when the Legislature takes on hurricane-related issues in its March session.

    "I have no illusions about the behavior of big corporations when they see an opportunity to frustrate the public with the way they conduct their business operations," Lee said. "There's no doubt that the more difficult you make it for people to collect their money, the more likely it is they will go away."
    For those of us in Northwest Florida whose insurance companies surely have made us among the 'coldest' insured citizens in the state, it may be of interest to know that our own District 4 state senator, Charlie Clary, told St. John that he thinks legislators "should talk about it" next year. "It is worth study," St. John quotes Clary as saying. But, she adds --
    Some lawmakers don't think the issue needs to wait.

    "If you're sitting without your home repaired, a legislative session next year doesn't give you much comfort," said Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island. "I would like to see the insurance director and the Cabinet go ahead and give emergency authority to get the claims wrapped up."
    Perhaps most surprising is the reaction of state financial officer Tom Gallagher. Gallagher has been talking tough, but it seems he is following essentially a hands-off policy when it comes to Citizens Property Insurance Co., the high-risk insurer under his own command.
    Gallagher said it would do no good to impose a statutory deadline. Insurance companies face "an almost impossible situation" of finding enough adjusters to move any faster.

    "What good does (a legal deadline) do?" Gallagher asked. "People do as much as they can possibly do.

    "Believe me, Citizens would do anything they could do (to close more claims). They do not need nor want my aggravation," he said. "They're doing everything they can."
    Indeed, St. John's latest interview with Florida CEO Tom Gallagher is real news. After speaking with the CEO of Mobile USA, who explained why all the 'closed case' statistics may be misleading, St. John writes:
    Mobile USA President Dan Eldridge said closure rates are misleading, because his company holds claims open even after it has sent checks, "in case there is a supplemental payment."

    Eldridge said other insurance companies might look better because they are reporting claims "closed" even when policyholders contest the amount paid, or believe they are owed much more.
    But here's a surprise: Florida's chief financial officer told Paige St. John that he expects it:
    Gallagher agreed. "A lot of these 'closed' cases are going to get opened again," he said.
    That may not come as shock to those of us who have been paying attention, but it does confirm our suspicions. As Gallagher surely has known all along, the only way Citizens Insurance Co. can come close to fulfilling the promise it made to him recently is to close all open claims prematurely by New Year's Eve -- and re-open them the next week.

    But if that's the case, why did Gallagher bother talking tough to Citizens in the first place? Is the "aggravation" he claims to be causing them just a publicity stunt to distract hurricane victims from the cold?

    It is past time for Gallagher to turn up the heat. Show us some warmth, Tom.

    1 comment:

    Lots in Costa Rica said...

    Hello I want to congratulate to them by its site of the Web of the excellent looks like entertained and very good very to me it elaborated. I invite them to that they explore a little on my Web site. Lots in Costa Rica