Floridians won a great victory on Tuesday. Against the wishes of powerful legislators in Tallahassee and the exceptionally influential insurance lobby, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty struck down most of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation’s proposed 447% sinkhole insurance rate hikes.
This victory proves that Floridians, organized and united, can fight the insurance lobby and win.
Citizens board members proposed in July to raise sinkhole rates statewide by 430 percent on average to make them actuarially sound. In the Tampa Bay area — nicknamed "sinkhole alley" because of insurers’ losses on claims there – that would have translated to increases of 2,200 percent in coastal Pinellas County, and 2,400 percent in Tampa.
For the better part of a year, Policyholders of Florida and other consumer advocacy groups warned that insurers would seek these rate increases. It was only after overwhelming policyholder opposition that those in Tallahassee decided to listen.
Though there were some converts in the legislature, most backtracked because the people organized by consumer advocacy groups like Policyholders of Florida and the hard work of tireless consumer champions like Senator Mike Fasano, Representative Darryl Rouson, and Representative Rick Kriseman made them realize that the profits of a few could never justify tremendous financial strain for millions for Floridians. Our consumer champions made it clear that the proposed rate hikes would put some homeowners out of their homes and deliver yet another blow to our struggling economy.
What does all this mean in real terms?
Under the new rates, Pasco and Hernando counties will see average increases for sinkhole insurance of $300 to $400 as opposed to the $4,000 to $5,500 that Citizens had requested, according to State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Hillsborough will see increases of about $100 as opposed to the $3,200 increase that was requested, he said.
Though $400 is still a lot to stomach for many Floridians, it’s much more reasonable than the $5,500 hike sought by Citizens.
The Office of Insurance Regulation’s Order confirms what groups like Policyholders of Florida have argued all along: Citizens “provided no credible evidence” that it assessed the effects of SB 408 when making its rate-increase request.
Though I am certain the insurance industry and its lobbyists will continue to claim losses, consumer advocates across the state should sleep soundly knowing that their actions saved countless Floridians, many of whom live on modest fixed incomes, from losing their homes and their financial future.