Angry residents jam insurance meeting
Public meeting draws 700 in search for solutions to home-insurance woes

Article Courtesy of FLORIDA TODAY

Published  August 9, 2006


MERRITT ISLAND - Insurance horror stories were plentiful at a forum Monday night.

Solutions were rare.

Short-term remedies were virtually nonexistent.

And that tended to describe the condition of Florida's insurance industry.

The issue was given yet another public airing Monday during a two-hour town hall-style meeting at packed Merritt Island High auditorium. Nearly 700 people attended the event, sponsored by FLORIDA TODAY and Florida Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island.


Tempers were high, as people in the audience shouted questions at speakers, essentially asking: "Who is to blame?" and "Why are state regulators seemingly giving carte blanche for insurers to exorbitantly raise rates?"

Allen called insurance a "very vicious marketplace" in Florida, and one that is chasing away longtime residents and dissuading newcomers from locating here.

"That bothers me, as someone who was born in Florida," Allen said.

 Republican state legislator Randy Johnson, left, Steve Burgess of Tallahassee, the state's insurance consumer advocate, and Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island

Insurance woes in Florida have surfaced as a multiheaded hydra, with higher premiums and canceled policies. Skyrocketing premiums also are dissuading new and existing businesses from investing in the state -- a direct hit on commerce and job growth.

This isn't a new problem in Florida, but as insurers recently received permission for large increases in premiums, as well as continuing to unload many longtime customers, the situation is reaching what many are calling a crisis.


"My insurance has continued to go up every year for the last three years," said Sandra Mogilocki of Merritt Island. "I know the next one is going to be huge. That's absolutely unacceptable. It's just crazy."

Bill Howard and Norma Thomas, members of the board of directors for a condominium in Cocoa Beach, recently learned their insurer canceled the property's insurance. State-run Citizens Property Insurance soon will take over the policy, and Howard expects the $18,000 annual insurance bill will skyrocket.

"The board is very upset about it," Thomas said, noting the condo association hasn't filed a claim in two decades of being across the street from the beach.

"It used to be that insurance was for the good of the people," Howard said. "Now CEOs want to maximize profits, and they're using the political system to do it."

Many people also see lawmakers, for the most part, offering a lackluster and tardy response to the insurance monster, although last week, Gov. Jeb Bush pressured Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty to come up with a number of remedies ready for quick action.

McCarty promised to have a plan of operation proposed later this month and ready for emergency action by the governor's Cabinet meeting Aug. 29.

One of the panel members at Monday night's forum, Steve Burgess, Florida's insurance consumer advocate, told attendees his office has tried to be a diligent watchdog when insurance companies seek increases but sometimes sees his recommendations overruled by the state's Office of Insurance Regulation.

Burgess said, for example, said he thought State Farm was eligible for a 9 percent rate increase, when the Office of Insurance Regulation recently permitted the insurer a 53.7 percent increase.

"We've had some significant disagreements" with the Office of Insurance Regulation, Burgess said.

Randy Johnson, a Republican state legislator from the Orlando area who is running for Florida's chief financial officer position, put it succinctly when he said: "We have a mess here."

Johnson received rousing applause and a partial standing ovation when he suggested that if insurance companies threaten to leave the state if they don't get the rate increases they requested for property insurance, then they should take their other insurance business -- auto insurance, for example -- with them.

"It's been a long time that this thing has been broken," Johnson said. "This issue has landed on the kitchen table of Florida's families."