Former Florida Commissioner Who Helped Create Citizens Property Insurance Lobbies for Reforms

Jan 23, 2012

The following article was published in PropertyCasualty360º on January 23, 2012:

Former Florida Commissioner Who Helped Create Citizens Lobbies for Reforms

By Chad Hemenway

The insurance industry in Florida has a new ally as it pushes for reforms to Citizens Property Insurance Corp.: the man who helped launch the last-resort insurer.

Tom Gallagher, the state’s first chief financial offer, has joined the law firm Colodny Fass as a consultant in its governmental consulting and insurance-regulatory practice.

Gallagher is a former member of the state House of Representatives. He served as insurance commissioner from 1989 to 1995 and again from 2001 to 2003, when he was elected Florida’s CFO.

But another of Gallagher’s career accomplishments may be the most valuable to the insurance industry as it wrangles with lawmakers this legislative session to reform the state-run, over-exposed property insurer, Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

“It was my idea to start Citizens,” says Gallagher, who admits Citizens—which has grown to become the largest property insurer in the state despite its intention as a last-resort option—is “an albatross over every [Florida] resident.”

“It’s become a disaster,” Gallagher continues on Citizens. “It was never supposed to be the cheapest in the market. That was the furthest thing from my mind.”

Due to past rate freezes on Citizens, its policy count ballooned. An effort to get private, mostly domestic start-up insurers to depopulate Citizens was initially a success but policies have returned. Citizens remains a competitor of the private market. A bill to allow surplus-lines carriers to take out Citizens policies is currently under consideration.

“[Citizens] was created with good intentions before being morphed into what it is now by the wrong leadership,” Gallagher says. “The easy thing to do was freeze rates and look like a hero. But it was totally irresponsible.”

The former insurance commissioner is optimistic current leaders are willing to listen, but solutions won’t come easy, he says.

Other than reforms to Citizens, insurers are looking to fix an auto-insurance system the industry says is plagued by fraud. Florida’s no-fault personal injury protection (PIP) insurance laws promote gaming of the system, they say.

Gallagher sees a potential obstacle on the path of insurance reform: insurers versus insurers.

“There are two big issues: one is homeowners and the other is auto,” he explains. “Some companies do both, but a ton does one or the other. They aren’t together on any singular priority and they aren’t going to be.”

Furthermore, when it comes to PIP reform, there is no industry agreement. Some want to repair it, while others want to do away with it and start anew.

“Everyone agrees it’s broken, but there’s no consensus,” Gallagher says.

These inter-industry dilemmas need to be worked out, he adds, if insurers are to accomplish any real reform this legislative session, especially when battling lobbyists for trial attorneys and medical providers.

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