blasts insurance firm
just political move, Davis argues
Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
Published September 20, 2006
· Attorney General Charlie Crist's campaign promise to deal with Florida's
insurance crisis took shape Tuesday with a surprise attack against Citizens
Property Insurance Corp., the state's politically unpopular insurer of last
Crist, the Republican candidate for governor, led the Florida Cabinet in
rejecting a routine request by Citizens for approval of its business plan.
He also harshly lambasted the company for "poor performance" and
said it has "forgotten that it was created to serve the people."
by Crist, Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet gave temporary approval to an older
Citizens' business plan, with two new requirements: Citizens must hold at
least three public hearings before submitting a new plan by Jan. 31, 2007,
and it's barred from hiring outside lawyers unless authorized by the
Crist said Citizens has filed four petitions since May seeking to overturn
agency orders calling for rate reductions, and in each case, hired a private
law firm to sue the state's Office of Insurance Regulation. He also noted
that Citizens received a $715 million "bailout" from the
Legislature this year and that it receives money from all Florida homeowners
through assessments on their insurance bills.
Crist said Citizens' lawsuits against the state are tantamount to "the
taxpayers paying to sue themselves," adding, "this is totally
For days now, Crist has been facing more pressure from his Democratic
challenger, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, of Tampa, to make insurance a higher
priority. On Tuesday, Davis accused Crist of playing politics with the
"For the last four years, Charlie Crist as a member of the state
Cabinet has presided over Florida's property insurance crisis," Davis
said. "We need new leadership in Tallahassee that will keep the best
interests of Florida's homeowners and business owners at the top of the
agenda, whether there's an election coming up or not."
But Crist said his actions weren't politically motivated.
"It's just the right thing to do," he told reporters. "I've
got a duty to fight for the people of Florida. And here we have an
opportunity where the Cabinet can finally [get involved]. We're not potted
The operations manual that drew Crist's fire was drafted earlier this year
by state legislators. It describes broadly how the company is managed, how
it sets rates and its ethics policies.
Citizens was created by the state in 2002 as a safety net for homeowners
unable to purchase coverage from private insurers. It is now Florida's
largest insurer with more than 1.2 million policies, and it's the primary
insurer for most residents in South Florida.
Steve Parton, general counsel for the state's Office of Insurance
Regulation, said the Cabinet's action wouldn't change how the company
operates. Parton, however, called it "hopeful" that Citizens was
being required to hold public hearings on how it operates.
Crist wasn't specific Tuesday about his concerns about Citizens' customer
service. When asked by reporters, he said, "it's about their actually
paying people back when they file complaints. getting blue tarps off their
roofs ... It's pretty obvious."
Bush said Crist's concerns about Citizens are valid.
"There needs to be greater transparency and accountability for
Citizens," Bush said. "And that's what, I think, [Crist] is trying
Citizens' president, Bob Ricker, was present for part of the Cabinet
meeting, but he made no public comments and left as Crist made his remarks.
A spokesman for Citizens later said the company takes Crist's concerns
seriously and will make efforts to meet his expectations.
"We're far from perfect and we know it," said Citizens spokesman
Scott said consumer complaints about Citizens' performance is down after a
high in 2004. During the 2004 storm season, Citizens had 120,000 claims
filed and logged 9,831 complaints about its performance. In 2005, it had
165,000 claims and 1,216 customer complaints. Scott said the reduced number
of complaints is owed to the company's ability to hire additional staff in