Editorials of the Palm Beach Post Editorial Board are the opinions of the Board, not of the Post newsroom.
An encouraging sign comes from an unexpected source amid the state’s ongoing property insurance slump Last week Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis acknowledged the need to better address a segment of the community that has yet to generate enough concern from state leaders — property owners who have seen their insurance coverage dramatically increase in cost or disappear outright.
“We didn’t help the policyholders,” Patronis said in a speech before the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. board of governors. He then announced a second event later this month in Southwest Florida to bring together insurers and their customers. He also named state insurance consumer advocate Tasha Carter as the new Hurricane Ian chief recovery director to help streamline property damage claim filings.
The announcement should give hope to victims of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. Even more encouraging is SPB 7052, a Florida Senate bill designed to hold bad actors in the insurance industry accountable. This attempt at balance has already drawn criticism from business and insurance industry lobbyists. In a political environment that clearly favors insurers over consumers, our term “unexpected sources” is not a stretch. Given the “reforms” that came out of two special sessions of the Florida Legislature, looking out for consumers wasn’t exactly a priority.
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In the real world, hiring a Florida Department of Financial Services administrator by the CFO — simply to do his job to help alleviate a crisis — wouldn’t warrant much notice. But such an announcement from the man who currently holds the CFO job in Florida might turn heads. Floridians deserve better.
The state’s chief financial officer is arguably the second-most powerful member of the Florida cabinet after the governor. As the name suggests, the CFO oversees an organization of more than 2,000 employees in 13 divisions, which handle audit, financial investigation and forensic services, and banking, cemetery and funeral services, fire protection, workers’ compensation and, we’d like to believe, insurance.
If there was ever a time Florida needed a skilled, engaged and more independent CFO, now is the time. Patronis, however, is too easily distracted by the political priorities of others, especially Governor DeSantis.
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Floridians can accept their politically ambitious governor following President Joe Biden’s policies. But, as homeowners face higher insurance premiums or sudden policy cancellations, do they think their CFO’s job is to spend time thinking about the Biden administration’s plan to overhaul the IRS, or to reconsider Norway’s divestment of Israeli banks? Requested for? Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) metrics?
An investigation by The Washington Post found that insurers reduced adjuster claims from Hurricane Ian losses and reduced payments to customers. Would the public be better served if Patronis supported the consumer protections in SPB 7052 that temper the Legislature’s industry-friendly “tort reforms” and provide policyholders with a better legal standard to hold abusive insurers to account? Shouldn’t the CFO be working more directly with insurance industry leaders to secure two special session incentives by the Legislature? At the very least, can’t Patronis lobby lawmakers for a bigger budget to ensure that the state’s consumer hotline operates more than three to four hours a day?
The coaches of the losing team are fired. Failing firms have leaders and employees who bring little value to their work. Patronis don’t have to worry about it. He was appointed to the job in 2017 and subsequently elected and re-elected, running as a Republican willing to toe the party line and parrot Governor DeSantis’ priorities.
The CFO must be a hard worker. Patronis has no reason to act like a man out of depth. He is an insurance consumer advocate. He has administrative leadership, a department and many stakeholders to help the CFO lead Florida through this crisis. The question is how he leads.