This is what a real Florida insurance emergency looks like
Just before Christmas, Governor Ron DeSantis called the Legislature into special session because he said Florida’s property insurance market was too fragile to survive even a few months without another billion dollars. bailouts and a pile of new hurdles for Floridians who believe their claims have been unfairly denied.
Now we have to ask ourselves: Did DeSantis and legislative leaders know, when they dropped the massive “emergency” bill on lawmakers and the public less than 72 hours before the start of the session, at How cruelly insurers treated customers whose homes were heavily damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Ian?
It’s hard to believe they didn’t. Under Florida law, the 90-day deadline to pay Ian’s claims was fast approaching; this deadline was December 30. Yet data released this week by the state Insurance Regulatory Office shows nearly 20% of 700,000 claims are still open, and in more than 60,000 of those open cases, Floridians have yet to received no payment from their insurers.
It’s not even close to the most disturbing reveal, however. According to these same figures, more than 25% of claims settled – 180,000 – were closed without any payment from their insurance companies. Not a penny.
In a best-selling investigation published last week, The Washington Post may have cracked at least part of the code. The Post spoke to five independent adjusters, hired by insurance companies to deal with the crushing of Ian’s claims. All of them reported the same thing: their professional damage assessments were changed – always down, in some cases up to 90%. Photos showing devastated homes have been removed from reports. Damage descriptions have been changed. Jordan Lee, an adjuster who inspected dozens of homes for Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Co., said when he reviewed the final version of his reports, 100% had been changed.
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The Post spoke to adjusters who worked with three insurers, none of whom would speak to reporters. There is no evidence that other insurers used the same tactics to avoid paying claims. But there’s also no getting around the fact that more than a third of claims filed after Hurricane Ian are seriously overdue or have been denied payment.
Still, lawmakers believed insurance companies needed more leeway to deny claims — and put them at risk of having to pay their own insurer’s legal fees if they sued and lost.
It is unacceptable. And unlike the hastily convened session in December, this is a real emergency. Even before Ian struck, Floridians were paying the highest insurance rates in the country, under some of the strictest conditions, including massive deductibles, coverage limits and restrictions on their legal representation. Yet after Ian, one in four homeowners found their insurance didn’t kick in when they needed it most.
The Legislative Assembly concluded the second week of session on Friday. If lawmakers can pass a bad insurance bill in just four days, surely the remaining seven weeks of the regular session offer plenty of time to correct the imbalance they’ve created. They can start by giving consumers back some of the protections they lost, including enough time to file claims, more streamlined deductibles, and much stronger advocacy on their behalf by the Office of Insurance Regulation.
More important, however, is a top-down examination of what has gone so wrong with the Florida insurance market – an examination that is taking place in public, with statewide hearings and just as much debate and open testimony as possible. Florida leaders should take the time and effort, especially, to listen to the people who returned home after floodwaters receded from Ian, the rubble left behind by the homes where they raised their children. or planned for retirement ― only to find that their most valuable asset was only worth pennies on the dollar to their insurance company despite the premiums they faithfully paid for years.
The system hasn’t become this malformed in the past few years alone, and fixing it will take time and a good deal of courage. But it’s no less than Floridians deserve.
The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board is made up of Opinion Editor Krys Fluker, Managing Editor Julie Anderson, and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. Contact us at [email protected]