Insurance News

Insurers may get break in payouts

Posted on: March 15, 2010

TALLAHASSEE ? After years of fighting insurance companies, Florida lawmakers are now leaning toward helping some out.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 7-3 Wednesday ? after some animated debate ? for a bill (SB 2044) that would allow insurers to initially retain up to half of the amount of a claim, forcing policyholders to prove the money was used to cover their loss before receiving the full amount.

Companies are now required to pay full replacement costs without proof of repairs.

The bill was introduced a day after Florida insurance regulators notified a Jacksonville insurer that it has until the end of the month to comply with solvency requirements to avoid suspension or losing its license.

And the warning to Southern Oak Insurance Co. is just the first in what regulators said will be a series of similar messages to companies on the brink of insolvency.

Officials expect some will fail.

“You’ll lose some companies,” said Robin Westcott, who monitors property and casualty insurers for solvency and compliance with the state’s financial requirements.

Regulators are concerned Southern Oak funneled too much profit to its managing general agent while claiming underwriting losses, held too much risk in South Florida and retained an insufficient amount ? approximately $3 million ? for catastrophic loss.

The Office of Insurance Regulation has been running audits in recent weeks on smaller companies to ensure they could pay claims if their policyholders were hit with a destructive hurricane this summer.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink wants to know how any of the property insurers could be faced with insolvency after several years without much storm damage.

“What gives in an environment with four years of no storms?” Sink asked after a meeting Tuesday of the governor and Cabinet. “Our insurance companies ought to be making good profits.”

The Republican-led Legislature is reviewing some of its decisions from 2007 that now seem too lax on low-budget startups. The days are over when a new insurer can be licensed with as little as $5 million in startup capital. Westcott now wants to see at least $15 million in startup capital.

“There are systematic issues in the property insurance market that must be dealt with by this Legislature,” said Sam Miller, vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, an industry group. “It’s important that they find out why these companies are failing.”

But with the highly capitalized companies like AllState and State Farm reducing their risk in the state, Florida needs the new, smaller insurers in business, Miller noted.

“Smaller Florida-grown property insurers have found a niche by selecting smaller, more manageable pools of risk,” Miller said. While the new Florida-based insurers now write close to 50 percent of the residential insurance market, he said, most are nowhere near well enough capitalized to pay off should catastrophe strike.

© 2010 · All Rights Reserved · St. Petersburg Times ·

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