This is what a real insurance emergency looks like, Florida

Just before Christmas, Governor Ron DeSantis summoned the Legislature to a special session because he said Florida’s property insurance market was too fragile to last even a few months, without another $1 billion bailout and a stack of new barriers for Florida residents trusting their claims. unfairly rejected.

Now we wonder: Did DeSantis and legislative leaders know, when they dropped massive “emergency” bills on lawmakers and the public less than 72 hours before they were scheduled to begin the session, how cruel insurance companies were to treat customers whose homes were damaged. heavily damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Ian?

Hard to believe they didn’t. Under Florida law, the 90-day deadline to pay a claim from Ian is fast approaching; That cutoff is December 30th. But data posted this week by the state’s Office of Insurance Rules shows that nearly 20% of the 700,000 claims are still open, and in more than 60,000 of those open cases, Florida residents have not received any payment from their insurance.

It doesn’t even come close to the most disturbing revelation. According to the same figures, more than 25% of the settled claims — 180,000 —- were closed without any payment from their insurance company. Not a penny.

In a blockbuster investigation published last week, the Washington Post may have cracked at least part of the code. The Post spoke to five independent insurance assessors, who were hired by the insurance company to work on the crush of Ian’s claims. Each and every one of them reported the same thing: Their professional damage assessments were altered —- always downwards, in some cases by as much as 90%. Photos documenting the damaged houses have been removed from the report. Damage description changed. Jordan Lee, an appraiser who inspects dozens of homes for Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Co., says that when he looked back at the latest version of his report, 100% had been amended.

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The Post spoke to adjusters who work with three insurance companies, none of whom would speak to journalists. There is no evidence that other insurance companies use the same tactics to avoid paying claims. But there’s also no mention of the fact that more than a third of claims filed after Hurricane Ian were actually overdue, or that payments were denied altogether.

But lawmakers think insurers need more leeway to reject claims — and put them at risk of having to pay their own insurers’ legal bills if they take them to court and lose.

This is nonsense. And unlike the rushed December session, this was a real emergency. Even before Ian hit, Florida residents were paying some of the nation’s highest insurance rates, under some of the strictest conditions including a massive deductible, coverage limits, and restrictions on their legal representation. But after Ian, one out of every four property owners found that their insurance didn’t come when they needed it most.

The legislature ends its second week of session Friday. If legislators can pass bad insurance bills in just four days, surely the remaining seven weeks of regular sessions offer plenty of time to correct the imbalances they have created. They can start by returning some of the protections they have lost to consumers — including sufficient time to file claims, more rational deductions, and stronger advocacy on their behalf by the Regulatory Insurance Office.

More important, though, is a top-down examination of what’s wrong with Florida’s insurance market — which is done in public, with statewide hearings and as much public debate and testimony as possible. Florida’s leaders must take the time and effort, in particular, to listen to the people who returned home after the Ian floods receded, to the rubble left of the homes where they raised their children or planned their retirement – only to discover their most valuable asset. valuable. worth only a penny to their insurance company despite the premiums they faithfully paid over the years.

The system hasn’t become flawed in just the last few years, and fixing it will take a fair amount of time and fortitude. But it’s no less than a Floridian’s worth.

The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Krys Fluker, Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson, and Viewpoint Editor Jay Reddick. Contact us at [email protected]

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