The mark of any good legislator is that he or she understands the problems facing their constituents and has the inclination to do something about it. Our latest installment of Tallahassee Spotlight led us to Representative Frank Artiles (R – Miami), who comes from a district where few issues are more salient than those involving the complicated property insurance market. Given his intimate knowledge of public adjusting, Representative Artiles lends a refreshing perspective on these issues in a legislature filled with folks who have had little interaction with policyholders in their hour of need. This unique background has served him well in his short time in Tallahassee.
Fresh off his first term in the State House, Representative Artiles has already proven to be a fierce advocate on behalf of the state’s eight-million policyholders – a veritable bulldog who will always let you know how he feels about the issues.
We sat down with Representative Artiles to get his take on some of the most pressing issues facing Florida’s eight million policyholders. Representative Artiles impressed us with his strong pro-consumer inclination and, true to his reputation as a no-nonsense legislator, Representative Artiles proved to be a true champion for Floridians, both in his district and across the state.
Q. Why is property insurance always such an important issue in the state of Florida and, more specifically, in your district?
Representative Artiles: Property Insurance will always be a hot topic in our state. First, Florida isn’t the most appealing state for insurance companies to write policies because of the amount of risk the state poses for natural disasters. Our climate and geographic location put Florida on a different playing field than other states. Now if you look at my district, I represent parts of Miami-Dade County, which includes parts of Country Walk, Homestead, Red Lands and West Kendall. My District was ground zero for hurricane Andrew and many of my residents experienced the claims process after a natural disaster.
Q. What causes insurance rates in the state to be so high?
Representative Artiles: As I mentioned before there are several factors in our state we are unable to control such as the weather and our distance from the water table. However, there are things we can control which are attributed to the high rates in our state. Those things include the investigation and prosecution of fraudulent insurance claims and more importantly the insurance industry’s fascination with deeming everything to be fraud in order to avoid paying covered perils under policy. What our state needs is standardized policy language so consumers and companies can compare apples to apples.
Q. In the most recent legislative session, insurance lobbyists and even some legislators implied a presumption of guilt with regard to fraud among those policy holders submitting insurance claims. Does that strike you as troublesome?
Representative Artiles: Absolutely, when you sit down and actually read through the data of confirmed instances of fraud it is amazing how low the numbers really are. Yet, unfortunately, legislators buy into the misconceptions the insurance industry is selling and support their perceptions of fraud. The consumer has a right to be made whole and insurance companies deny, delay and do not pay claims in order to increase their profitability. If you’ve determined everything to be “fraud” it makes it a lot easier not to pay out claims and even easier to justify rate increases or bad policy such as in Senate Bill 408. What other word triggers that knee jerk reaction?
Q. What are your thoughts on how the state can reduce insurance rates and increase insurance availability?
Representative Artiles: I believe my fellow legislators and I can play a dramatic role in reducing the insurance rates in our state. Unfortunately, my colleagues had it wrong this session. First, the mentality of, "if you build it they will come" is unrealistic and has no place in any business model. We need to look at our fellow high-risk states and see what models work and what models don’t. Whichever plan we decide on must be well thought out and executed. However there are some quick fixes such as standardized policies, appraisal clauses, management company disclosures and transparency regarding insurance companies’ expenses.
Q. What role should Citizens play in the state?
Representative Artiles: Citizens Property Insurance Corporation was created because of the disproportion of natural disasters affecting our state. Citizens was created to protect those on the coast line who after a few bad hurricane seasons found themselves unable to find any coverage. Citizens, as it was intended, should be the insurance company of last resort and it has morphed into the largest insurance company in Florida. Recently, Citizens has even changed policy language astronomically increasing litigation and attorney fees.
Q. What are your constituents telling you about property insurance issues?
Representative Artiles: My constituents aren’t telling me, they are begging me for help. Every day my office receives dozens of emails, phone calls and letters regarding property insurance. Their desperation is simple. Why would the Florida Legislature vote to pass pieces of legislation like Senate Bill 408 when times are so tough? Unfortunately, having voted against the bill several times, I don’t have a simple answer for them.
Q. What do you think the next legislative session holds for property insurance policyholders in the state? Should they be worried?
Representative Artiles: It will be interesting to see how things play out in the next couple of months with the enactment of the new property insurance laws. It’s interesting to see the amount and depth of bad press surrounding the recent changes. With that being said, I’m hopeful for this coming Session. I know I’m not alone in the amount and severity of complaints I’ve received from my constituents. Our job as legislators is to do what is best for those who elect us while we are in Tallahassee. I truly believe meaningful, consumer friendly insurance reform is possible and I look forward to fighting for the consumer next legislative session.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add about property insurance issues facing the state?
Representative Artiles: Something must be done to negotiate fair and transparent laws that protect consumers while keeping insurance companies profitable. Unfortunately, when the insurance industry invests over five million a year in lobbyists, experts, reporters, editorials and campaigns it makes it difficult to get them to the table. It is up to our state legislators to the right thing and listen to both sides, not just the side with the largest piggy bank. I have faith that the newly elected legislators will have what it takes to make the right call.
For more information on Representative Artiles, you can visit his website at http://www.frankartiles.com/. You can contact his Legislative Assistant, Raena Wright, HERE and his District Secretary, Beatriz Lopez, HERE.