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FL Insurance Commissioner: Property Insurers in State at Risk Even Without Hurricane

Source: Business

Posted on 08 Oct 2009

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Some Florida property insurance companies will likely fail if the state is struck by a major hurricane, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said Tuesday, and some could tip into insolvency even if no storm were to lash Florida.

The statements at a meeting of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee alarmed some lawmakers, but McCarty portrayed them as simply a part of the business cycle.

McCarty's comments came at the latest of several tense meetings with lawmakers that stretch back to earlier this year, shortly after McCarty rejected State Farm Florida's request for a 47.1 percent rate increase. That rejection led the company to withdraw from the property insurance market, sending shock waves that have not died down yet, as Tuesday's meeting made clear.

The acknowledgement that some companies might go under came as McCarty fielded questions from Senate Ways and Means Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has become an increasingly vocal critic of McCarty.

McCarty said his office has taken steps to try to avoid insurers becoming insolvent, including "stress-testing" companies and pushing mergers when appropriate. But those measures aren't foolproof, the insurance commissioner said.

"Some will fail without a hurricane," he said.

Even without hurricanes, he said, insurance companies face rising costs for reinsurance and claims from non-hurricane damage to homes and businesses.

But Alexander said one of McCarty's primary responsibilities is to make sure that the companies are charging homeowners high-enough premiums to survive.

Others were less troubled by the remarks. Banking and Insurance Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said the object for regulators like McCarty was to reduce the danger of companies going out of business.

"It doesn't eliminate the risk of failure," he said.

The meeting marked the latest example of how relationships between McCarty and the Legislature have grown increasingly testy. Alexander said the commissioner hasn't gone far enough to answer lawmakers' questions about an array of issues, including State Farm leaving the market.

"He's artful at evading a full answer to many of those questions," Alexander said.

The State Farm issue remains contentious. McCarty said he's still working with the company to try to persuade it to remain in the state.

Meanwhile, the departure of the company is still sending ripples across the property insurance market. Susanne Murphy, executive vice president of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation - a public insurance plan that state officials are trying to shrink - noted Tuesday that fewer policies moved into private plans in the first quarter of 2009 than the organization had expected.