Saturday, November 05, 2005

Florida's Friday Scandal Dump - Updated

It says a lot about their low regard for the people of Florida that Kevin MCarty, the state Insurance Division director, and his boss, state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, used the "Friday News Dump" to make public a government report that was completed ten months ago.
Late Friday, Florida state government officials used a tried-and-true political maneuver known as the "Friday news dump" to release the long-overdue "market audit" of Citizens Property Insurance. As Paige St. John reports:
A market conduct exam by state insurance regulators criticizes Citizens Property Insurance for failing to respond promptly to 2004 hurricane victims.
The review, conducted by the Office of Insurance Regulation, was released after business hours Friday, 10 months after the examination was conducted.
The idea behind an after-hours "Friday news dump" is that when a cunning politician has no choice but to release scandalous news that makes him look bad, he'll wait until late Friday afternoon. That way, a large share of the public is sure to miss it.

It'll be too late for TV evening news (and most experienced newspaper reporters) but early enough for the part-time weekend staff to faithfully photocopy it for the Saturday morning papers -- a notoriously low-readership day. By Monday, shrewd politicos hope, all will be forgotten.

Luckily for the people of Florida, reporter Paige St. John is like a Pinkerton detective. She never sleeps. In today's Gannett morning newspapers, she gives her readers a superbly crafted and balanced news article, along with important context -- which is all the more remarkable, this time, considering the lateness of the state's news dump and the shortness of the deadline she faced.

St. John cares.

By contrast, it says a lot about their low regard for the people of Florida that Kevin MCarty, the state Insurance Division director, and his boss, state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, used the "Friday News Dump" to make public a government report that was completed ten months ago.

Not surprisingly, the report reveals how embarassingly incompetent Citizens Property Insurance is -- and by implication how lax have been the state's chief financial and insurance regulators on whose watch Citizens Property has fallen apart. As St. John writes:
The [Insurance Division] report cites the case of a Hurricane Charley victim who waited 100 days for his adjuster to turn in a file to Citizens for payment. In another case, a Hurricane Ivan victim waited 124 days before an adjuster came to inspect damage.

In six out of 30 claims approved in areas of South Florida where there was little storm damage, auditors said the payments were questionable and should have been reviewed.

* * *
The review does not recommend fines against Citizens.

* * *
The Department of Financial Services' consumer services division fielded 9,744 complaints against Citizens from the 2004 storms, more than any other insurer. Those complaints triggered the market-conduct review.
Reporter St. John also mentions in some detail the travails of Pensacola resident Scott Wright. He filed three complaints "from September to December... each time to force Citizens to take action on his claim from Hurricane Ivan."
At first Wright could not reach the company's assigned adjuster. Later, he needed state help to get additional living expenses, and couldn't get anyone at Citizens to tell him the status of his claim.

Finally, the $10,000 check Citizens sent was, by Wright's calculation, $6,400 short. He found frequent math errors on Citizens' settlement statements.

Sound familiar? Wondering if your own experience is included in the report?

Well, you can't find out by reading the state's insurance report this weekend. The only thing the Division has posted on its web site is a plain vanilla press release that mentions no names and recites no facts.

There is one more thing -- at the end of the press release, there's a link to what the Insurance Division coyly calls "the final document." The link doesn't work. Try it yourself:

Maybe the faulty link will be fixed on some distant Friday evening after another ten or twelve months have gone by -- say, by the time Tom Gallagher winds up his campaign for Governor. In the meantime, we can only hope that Paige St. John keeps her Friday evenings free.

Glad to report - As of late Saturday morning, the above link appears to be working for the first time.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like Ricker has been doing some pretty sleezy stuff while at Citizens. While the victims of the hurricanes go unpaid, check to see how many claims were paid to acquaintances of his who shouldn't have been covered.

Anonymous said...

We happen to be one of the claims still unsettled over a year after the storms. Living with mold and no carpeting on our floors and still fighting with Citizens. Initially they 'lost' our claim and only 'found' it after fighting with them over the phone. We were assigned to two different adjusting companies (one being Quantum), had 'no-show' adjusters, and the one that did finally show up a month and a half after the storm they denied was ever here, but subsequently sent us a report made out by the non-existent adjuster. Go figure. We finally went to mediation last week and of course left there at an impasse, but the interesting thing was that the poor adjuster there to represent Citizens had a file that didn't contain half the information we filled him in with.

Anonymous said...

How could it be impasse if there are 3 mediators? Citizens sucks.

Anonymous said...

All this attention over what happened last year, using this BS over Hulsebusch (who frankly without they would not have survived last year) is serving Citizens well to cover up so many real issues. You should hear the "Horror Stories" about what is going on over there this year. They should hire Hulsebusch back, get the rest of them out of his way and let him fix it. Get Hulsebusch to tell you the real story about what is going on here, he is far to professional to do so but if he would, WOW!!!!