November 3, 2017
By Matt Dixon, Politico
TALLAHASSEE — A panel of lawmakers on Friday stressed the need to pass insurance reforms in next year’s legislative session but also lamented that political gridlock is likely to make that very difficult.
The three main issues discussed by the members, who were gathered at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Insurance Summit, were property insurance, assignment of benefits, and worker’s compensation, each of which has proven to be too big for lawmakers to tackle in recent years.
“We’ve got obstacles and they are fairly immovable in some respects,” state Rep. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville) said.
He pointed specifically to a Florida Supreme Court that has not been friendly to worker’s compensation policies favored by the event’s pro-business audience, and that 2018 is an election year when state lawmakers typically are reluctant to take on contentious bills.
Senate Banking and Insurance Chair Anitere Flores (R-Miami) said that the election year could be a positive, because elected officials will be coming to business groups for contributions.
“Just about anyone who is someone is running for something,” she said. “They will all be coming to you … asking where we are with worker’s compensation.”
Her comments were specific to worker’s compensation reform, which lawmakers failed to complete last session even though the Florida Supreme Court tossed the state’s system because of attorney’s fee caps it said were unconstitutional.
Business groups have been concerned that it would spike worker’s compensation rates for state companies, but there will likely be a 9.5 percent decrease approved by state regulators. Those on the panel said that the decrease is temporary, and that the future could bring steep increases.
“The real issue, even with a decrease, is now market uncertainty and market instability,” state Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze) said.
Broxson, who sells insurance, was added to the Senate Insurance and Banking Committee by President Joe Negron. The move was seen by some as a way to add a more business-friendly vote on a committee that those groups saw unfriendly.
The outlook for successful reform legislation in 2018 seemed just as dire for “Assignment of Benefits,” a process by which a homeowner allows a vendor making repairs to directly negotiate with the insurance company. But fraud and associated costs have been on the rise in recent years, as insurers say vendors submit inflated cost totals, and attorneys can collect big fees suing the companies if they refuse to pay.
It is one of the most sharp-elbowed fights between business groups and trial attorneys, two groups that fight each other on almost every issue.
“AOB is the pits and it is because of corrupt attorneys,” Fant said.
Flores said in the wake of Hurricane Irma, property insurance is the “main” issue facing her committee this year. She wanted to have a calmer 2018 session after being embroiled in several high-profile fights last year, but “mother nature had different plans.”