On April 19, 2011, I wrote a blog asking Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to take a stand on Senate Bill 408. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear much from CFO Atwater’s office during the debate on 408. In fact, the little we did hear appeared to be regurgitation of industry talking points about “fraud” and “cost drivers.” When SB 408 was finally signed into law in May 2011, the CFO remained silent as to the potential impacts on consumers and industry. In June, we heard nothing – in July, still nothing. However, on August 2, 2011, we finally heard from the CFO’s office. During a cabinet meeting, CFO Atwater asked the following question, "There is the reality [that] there are mortgage players who want sinkhole coverage…How does a Floridian go from paying $350, $450 a year to $3,000, $4,000 a year?"
Now that there is a public uproar about Citizens Property Insurance Corporation raising its rates an average of 400% statewide for sinkhole insurance, CFO Atwater feels that it is safe to stand up for consumers. Unfortunately, it is too little too late. During session, CFO Atwater could have spoken out against 408 or even worked to make the bill better for consumers. Instead, the CFO acted like property insurance was not his business. In case you were wondering:
Insurance consumer service is handled by the CFO, and the office is responsible for the licensing and oversight of insurance agents and agencies, as well as funeral homes and cemeteries. The CFO appoints the Insurance Consumer Advocate. Insurance fraud investigation also is overseen by the CFO. As a member of the cabinet, the CFO oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation.
As you can see, more than any other cabinet member, the CFO has a vested interest in the insurance matters in this state. To remain detached from the debate surrounding SB 408 and to take a stand only after every newspaper in the state decries the “outrageous rate increases” is simply political grandstanding. At the August 2nd cabinet meeting, Atwater asked the Insurance Commissioner if he could require Citizens to phase in its proposed 429 percent statewide average rate hike over several years instead of all at once. Phase in the proposed increase…as in a cap on the increase…as in the law prior to SB 408? The law prior to SB 408 allowed for EXACTLY what the CFO was asked for on August 2nd.
Is this what you expect from someone who once called himself the “insurance watchdog?” In this very blog, there are posts which praise CFO Atwater for his previous pro-consumer stances with respect to property insurance. We ask the CFO return to those pro-consumer roots.