Banner year for companies, not consumers
Jun 25, 2011
The following article was published in the Palm Beach Post on June 25, 2011:
Cerabino: Banner year for companies, not consumers
By Frank Cerabino
The state website that helped keep consumers from getting soaked by insurance companies stopped operating earlier this year.
If you go to ShopAndCompareRates.com, you get a message that says the site has been “temporarily removed,” and then you get directed to a page that extols the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott.
The insurance-rate site has been temporarily removed for months now.
The state-run website was maintained and stored on a server controlled by the governor’s office. It let consumers shop and compare homeowner insurance rates across all of Florida’s 67 counties, and it was hatched four years ago by Scott’s predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist.
“Many Florida homeowners find it difficult and frustrating to compare the cost of homeowners insurance,” Crist said at the time. “The site is a valuable tool and serves as a starting point to help Floridians find the insurance policy best suited to their needs.”
Another consumer service gone
The taking down of the consumer-friendly website isn’t an isolated incident.
There was another consumer-friendly measure initiated four years ago, a provision that gave the state’s insurance consumer advocate the job of assigning letter grades to property insurance companies on how well they made timely payments and handled customer complaints.
The first batch of insurance company report cards was due this year. And the grades weren’t reassuring. One-third of the state’s insurance carriers flunked when it came to making timely payments and one in four received the lowest grade when it came to complaints, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which received a draft copy of the report card.
The Florida Legislature rushed into action.
“I don’t think the state of Florida should treat businesses like fourth-grade children,” argued state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, who sponsored legislation this past session to put an end to the insurance company report cards.
Still waiting for the truth
So forgive me if I sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the disappearance of the insurance-rate website that helps consumers feels like just another brick in the wall.
After all, it has been a banner year for insurance companies in Florida.
The insurance bill Crist vetoed last year got passed and signed under Scott. It allows insurance companies to jack up rates 15 percent without getting approval from the Office of Insurance Regulation. It also reduces claim times, makes consumers pay for some repairs before reimbursement, and adds the new goody of restricting sinkhole-damage claims.
“Worse yet, this bill allows insurance companies to provide ‘additional or supplementary’ information to the state in rate-setting cases without requiring the top officers at the insurance company to certify that the data backing up their claims for rate increases is truthful,” wrote the bill’s most outspoken opponent, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. “I don’t know about you, but I want to see insurance companies raise their right hand and swear to tell the truth before I’ll believe their claims!”
As for the truth on insurance rates across the state, the wait for disclosure on the state’s website goes on.
The site is expected to be back online on or before Sept. 1, wrote Brittany Benner Perez, Deputy Director of Communications for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, in response to my emailed questions.
“Shortly after the transition, the Governor’s Office verbally requested through the office’s chief of staff, that the website be taken down so it could be reviewed, updated and enhanced,” Perez wrote.
“Recently, the Governor’s Office concluded its review, and has informed us they would like the (insurance) office to assume ownership of this application,” Perez wrote. “We are in the process of re-launching this application with updated rate information.
“Although the Governor’s Office will no longer be hosting this application, they do plan to include a link to it on their ‘Florida Has a Right to Know’ website.”
Find this article here: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/cerabino-banner-year-for-companies-not-consumers-1562365.html