News from Tallahassee for 3/4/15

Affordable insurance: still out of reach in Florida posted on 2/25/15

by Martha Musgrove | Sun Sentinel

Insurance is not likely to be high on the Legislature's agenda when it convenes on March 3, but that could change for two reasons: Gov. Rick Scott has picked a fight with his Cabinet colleagues in an attempt to replace Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty. And national flood insurance premiums are scheduled to rise by 15 percent to 18 percent on April 1.

The first has the political intrigue, deceit and backstory that keeps Florida politics entertaining. The governor bullies the head of the Cabinet-controlled Department of Law Enforcement into resigning. The truth comes out, but Scott gets little or no push-back from the Cabinet — Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.

So the governor resets his sights on replacing McCarty and two other Cabinet appointees, the banking commissioner and revenue director. A boardroom coup — at least for now.

The second reason is more complicated — another one of those punches to the wallet that keeps Floridians seething over the cost and turmoil of securing homeowner and flood insurance.

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Florida bill lets car insurers set rates by single ZIP code posted on 2/18/15

by charles elmore | palm beach post

State law forbids car insurers from setting rates in a territory as small as one ZIP code given concerns it could be abused to discriminate against low-income, minority or other customers, but a bill that cleared Florida legislative committtees Tuesday would change that.

A national consumer advocate called it “dangerous,” but State Farm lobbyist Mark Delegal argued it was time to overturn a law that might have made sense 30 years ago but needs revising in light of computerized data today.

“We believe the consumer protections are there,” Delegal said.

HB 165 overturns the one-ZIP code ban and allows insurers to use smaller rating territories subject to approval by the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation as “actuarially measurable and credible.”

It passed the House insurance and banking subcommittee Tuesday, as did a Senate version, SB 258, by a unanimous vote of the insurance and banking committee there.

Delegal told House members computer technology can break up the entire state and nation into one-kilometer squares with enough data to be credible.

A national consumer advocate is wary.

Setting rates based on a single ZIP code is “not credible and therefore not actuarially sound,” said Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. “The push toward a specific rate for each driver is dangerous.”

That’s because larger groupings spread risk and ensure broad numbers of customers pay fair, comparable rates, he said.

There’s plenty of room for abuse, he said. Already, his group says, insurers sometimes charge low-income drivers more — having nothing to do with their driving records but because of factors such as employment or credit reports. He says “price optimization” programs charge more to people considered less likely to shop around.

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‘Exorbitant’ hospital charges rob Florida drivers, suit claims posted on 2/16/15

by charles elmore | palm beach post

HCA logoPALM BEACH GARDENS — After a car wreck, Penny Wollmen said she had no idea a hospital’s scans to check for injuries would use up her $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection benefits in a single day. A chiropractor told her there were no benefits left to pay for his services under Florida’s car insurance system, she said.

“I was crying,” said Wollmen, who said she has four kids and has to drive her husband to work in their one remaining car. “I couldn’t get the proper treatment.”

A lawsuit scheduled for a hearing Tuesday names Gov. Rick Scott’s former company and alleges HCA hospitals including JFK Medical Center in Atlantis are exhausting consumers’ PIP benefits by grossly overcharging for services — at up to 65 times what Medicare pays.

Hospital attorneys have asked a federal judge in Tampa to dismiss the suit.

“We believe the case lacks merit, and we intend to defend it vigorously,” a statement from JFK Medical Center said.

With one motorist in Palm Beach County, JFK charged nearly $18,000 for scans for which Medicare pays a total of less than $500, the suit claims. The lawsuit seeks class-action certification to represent others affected at some 80 HCA hospitals around the state.

Win or lose, it’s a very different narrative than the debate about bad guys faking accidents or providing phony care that preceded 2012 PIP reforms. Scott personally lobbied for and signed a bill that helped focus payments on hospitals and other emergency providers by reducing nonemergency benefits to $2,500.

This lawsuit claims hospitals are the ones ripping off consumers and exploiting the system.

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Nearly 80,000 transfer offers approved for Citizens in April posted on 2/11/15

by charles elmore | palm beach post

Nearly 80,000 offers from private insurers have been approved for customers of state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. in April, bringing the total for 2015 to more than 488,000, regulators said Tuesday.

Customers can choose to stay with Citizens under “takeout” letters, but such offers are expected to help shrink the state insurer to around 555,000 policies by hurricane season, nearing a third of its peak size of 1.5 million in recent years, executives have said.

Approved for April are First Community Insurance Co. (up to 12,897 policies), Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Co. (20,000), Mount Beacon Insurance Co. (29,000) and Prepared Insurance Co. (17,000).

Scott already eyeing replacement for state's top insurance regulator posted on 1/28/15

by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott recruited a Louisiana state official as the replacement for Florida's chief insurance regulator weeks before he publicly called for the regulator's removal as part of a second-term reorganization.

Scott's office confirmed Monday that it asked for a resume from Ron Henderson, 45, the deputy insurance commissioner for consumer advocacy in Louisiana. His name was pitched to Scott by a Tallahassee lobbyist for the insurance industry, Fred Karlinsky, a friend of Scott's and co-chairman of his recent second inaugural.

Henderson was being considered as a replacement for Kevin McCarty, who has headed Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation since 2003 and plays a critical role in setting the property insurance rates that affect all Florida homeowners and businesses.

Karlinsky, a Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer, recently switched law firms and joined Greenberg Traurig, one of the state's most politically active.

Scott last month appointed Karlinsky to a prestigious state board, the nine-member Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. That gives the lobbyist a seat at the table in recommending who should be the high court's next justice.

Karlinsky has had a tense relationship with McCarty's office, and the lobbyist is on friendlier terms with Henderson. Karlinsky and Henderson were co-presenters at an insurance regulation seminar on ethics in New Orleans in July, sponsored by the Louisiana Department of Insurance.

Karlinsky has twice donated $5,000 to the election campaigns of Henderson's boss, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner James Donelon, in 2009 and 2013.

Scott's office reached out to Henderson while the governor was at the center of a growing furor over his office's sudden December ouster of Gerald Bailey, the long-time commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That move has led to calls for an outside investigation by two Cabinet members — Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

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