Valerie Saunders: Give Florida homeowners private insurance options
Valerie Saunders, guest columnist
Thursday, May 7, 2009
For many years now, those of us living in Florida haven’t had many good choices when it comes to finding a property insurance company to cover our homes.
As consumers, we want and need more options. We want to be able to buy a policy with a private company that we actually know and can trust will have enough money in the bank to pay our claims if a hurricane hits.
That’s why a “consumer choice” bill that passed overwhelmingly in the Florida Legislature last week (105-13 in the House, 27-9 in the Senate) deserves the support of Gov. Charlie Crist. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, and Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, would give us new options as we shop for homeowners’ coverage.
The bill would allow consumers to decide for themselves whether they are willing to pay an actuarially sound, market-based rate — even if it is more than what they’re paying now — to buy a homeowners’ policy with a large, well-known, and financially solid private insurer.
The Office of Insurance Regulation still would regulate many aspects of these policies, and only a limited number of large and well-capitalized private insurers would qualify for offering them, ensuring that the private capital is available to pay claims. In fact, many other consumer protections have been included in this bill.
The bill requires consumers to sign a form stating they are aware they’re purchasing a policy at a market-based rate. The consumer’s agent also would have to provide a rate comparison showing what the buyer would pay for similar coverage with Citizens, versus what they would pay under the market-based rate. Consumers also would be directed to the state’s “shop and compare rates” Web site and told they may be able to find a cheaper policy elsewhere.
In other words, consumers would continue to have a high level of protection while also having the choice regarding whether or not we want to buy one of these policies. No one is forcing them on us.
It should be entirely up to us to decide whether we’re willing to pay market-based rates, even if it’s more than what we pay now, for coverage with a large private insurer that has a history of providing good customer service and paying its claims.
So why would anyone be against allowing the people of Florida to have this kind of choice?
We need more private insurance companies in Florida, and we desperately need more private capital to help pay future hurricane claims. Our state is already on the hook for too much risk now.
It’s pretty simple: Let’s allow consumers themselves to decide. Let’s give homeowners another option. Let’s allow the free market to work.
Contact Gov. Crist today and tell him that you support House Bill 1171 — the “consumer choice” bill. You can reach him by phone at (850) 488-4441 or by e-mail at Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com.
Saunders, who lives in Jacksonville, is president of the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers.