Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 2, Number 45, November 7, 2005 

After suffering eight devastating hurricanes in 15 months, it is clear that we have to take action to protect the way of life we have come to love here in Florida.   

Brian Tracy, who has published nearly two dozen books on the development of human potential, says:  “Resolve to be a master of change rather than a victim of change.” 

As part of a multi-faceted package to address insurance issues, I am advocating both federal and state solutions.  At the federal level, I'm urging Congress to create a national catastrophe fund – something I lobbied for following Hurricane Andrew in 1992.  I am also urging Congress to set up Catastrophic Savings Accounts to allow homeowners to save tax-free for deductible and storm recovery costs and insurers to accumulate tax-deferred catastrophic reserves. 

On the state level, I am asking the Legislature to use sales tax revenue collected from hurricane recovery to help offset assessments against homeowners and encourage Floridians to strengthen their homes.  I am also calling for the standardization of Florida’s building code and capping coverage on homes valued at $1 million or less in Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state’s insurer of last resort. 

If we act now, we can make sure that property insurance remains available and affordable for citizens.  If we act now, we can better prepare for future storms.

                                                         -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER OFFERS COMPREHENSIVE SOLUTIONS TO BETTER PROTECT HOMEOWNERS AND STRENGTHEN PROPERTY INSURANCE MARKET

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, outlined several proposals for strengthening Florida’s property insurance market and better protecting homeowners and condominium unit owners from financial devastation after a hurricane strikes.  Gallagher also gave his support for federal solutions being advocated by Governor Jeb Bush and key congressional leaders.

“Eight catastrophic storms in 15 months have caused more than $32 billion in insured damages, and Florida homeowners will bear the brunt of this burden if we don’t act now to implement solutions to prevent an insurance market meltdown,” said Gallagher, whose office has received nearly 600,000 phone calls from storm victims in the last year.  “It will take a comprehensive approach to tackle the challenges that we face as a state.”

As part of a multi-faceted package to address insurance issues, Gallagher advocated both federal and state solutions.  At the federal level, Gallagher is urging Congress to establish a national catastrophe fund, for which he lobbied following Hurricane Andrew

in 1992, and to create individual Catastrophic Savings Accounts (CSAs) to allow homeowners to save tax-free for deductible and storm recovery costs.  He is also recommending Congress pass U.S. Representative Mark Foley’s legislation to allow the accumulation of tax-deferred catastrophic reserves by insurers.

“Catastrophic Savings Accounts would give Floridians the opportunity to save money tax-free to pay insurance deductibles and uninsured losses, as well as to strengthen their homes against hurricanes,” Gallagher said.  “Money would grow over time to better protect Floridians from the financial threat of hurricanes.”

On the state level, Gallagher asked the Legislature to earmark the sales tax revenue collected from hurricane recovery to help offset assessments against homeowners.  Gallagher also called for standardizing Florida’s building code statewide and capping coverage of homes at $1 million or less in Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state’s insurer of last resort. 

“Floridians pay millions in sales tax to recover from catastrophes.  They should not be taxed twice,” said Gallagher.

Gallagher is also initiating expansion of his mediation program to condominium communities.  The mediation program, established following multiple hurricanes in 2004, has been utilized by more than 11,000 homeowners in disputes with their insurance companies, with a 92 percent settlement rate.

Since last year, the Department of Financial Services has assisted nearly 600,000 Floridians with questions and requests for help after the hurricanes. The Department has advocated on behalf of nearly 61,000 consumers struggling with their insurance companies.  Eighty-eight percent of those complaints were resolved in favor of consumers, a total of 54,000 families helped.

Additionally, the Department, working with Governor Bush and the Legislature, reimbursed $43 million to hurricane victims burdened with multiple hurricane deductibles.  Gallagher also led the successful fight to eliminate multiple storm deductibles during one hurricane season.

This past spring, the Department hosted seven town hall meetings across the state where thousands of Floridians were provided direct on-site help with resolving their insurance claims.

“Small homeowners throughout the state should not have to bear the burden of billions of dollars in hurricane damages,” Gallagher said. “If we act now, we can make sure that property insurance remains available and affordable."


GALLAGHER DEPLOYS MOBILE ASSISTANCE UNIT TO HIALEAH FOR FLORIDIANS IMPACTED BY WILMA

MIAMI – Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that he has deployed a second mobile assistance unit to South Florida to help hurricane victims in the recovery process.   Gallagher, who was on-hand at the opening of the new unit in Hialeah, was joined by State Representative Ralph Arza, Hialeah City Council President Julio Robaina and Miami-Dade School Board Chair Frank Bolaños. 

“So many Floridians were impacted because of the wide path of destruction caused by Wilma, and we are here to help,” said Gallagher.  “My goal is to make sure no one takes advantage of storm victims and that insurance claims are paid quickly.”

The new location is in Hialeah at Amelia Earhart Park, 401 East 65th Street at the intersection of 122nd Street.

The mobile units are staffed with the Department of Financial Services’ consumer specialists who can help affected Floridians reach their insurance companies, start the claims process, and understand what steps they should take to rebuild.    

In Broward County, the mobile response unit is located at 6901 West Sunrise Boulevard in Plantation, across the street from Plantation High School.

Available on the mobile units are cellular phones, computers and other information resources to allow staff to help victims contact their insurance companies, file claims, get answers to questions they may have about their policies, and verify licensure of adjusters.  The mobile assistance unit hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Sunday.  Bilingual consumer specialists are available.

Consumers can also call the department’s storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM for assistance.  The hotline is available Monday through Sunday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Gallagher said that the department has already received more than 6,000 calls from storm victims.

Gallagher further advised affected Floridians to take the following actions immediately following the storm:

• Make emergency repairs to protect from further damage, document the damage and repairs in writing, and with receipts and photos.  

• Maintain copies of your household inventory and other documentation, including photos.  This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.

 • Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed and reputable service people.

 • If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that the adjuster is licensed by calling the department’s toll-free storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.

 • Be sure you understand how much a public insurance adjuster is charging and what services are included before signing any contract. 

A consumer who is approached by an unlicensed agent or adjuster or has been the victim of an insurance fraud scam can also file a complaint online on the department's web page or by calling the storm hotline. 


NEW SINGLE HURRICANE DEDUCTIBLE LAW MAY ASSIST VICTIMS OF MULTIPLE HURRICANES THIS SEASON 

MIAMI –Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, alerted storm victims that damage sustained from multiple hurricanes this season can be combined to meet a single windstorm insurance deductible. 

“Following the unprecedented four hurricanes we were hit with in 2004, we were successful in passing a law to limit hurricane deductibles to one per hurricane season,” said Gallagher, “regardless of the number of hurricanes that affect the policyholder.  Floridians need to know that losses suffered in separate storms can be combined to reach the deductible amount.  My hope is that this new law will protect people from financial devastation.” 

Under the new law, one full hurricane deductible, typically two or five percent of the total coverage for the structure, can be applied, regardless of the number of storms. However, once the full hurricane deductible has been met, insurers can only apply a non-hurricane deductible on future claims from other storms. The usual non-hurricane deductible for losses that result from other causes, such as fire or theft, is $500.   

For example, a two percent hurricane deductible on a $200,000 structure would be $4,000.  Therefore if a loss in excess of $4,000 was suffered from Hurricane Katrina, one full deductible would be met. Any additional storm claims would be subject to the usual $500 non-hurricane deductible so loss amounts exceeding $500 from Hurricane Wilma normally would be covered.

However, if the damage from Katrina was only $3,000, there would still be $1,000 left from the required $4,000 hurricane deductible to be met, and this would apply to losses from Wilma or any other storm.

Questions about deductibles or other financial issues can be answered through the Department of Financial Service hurricane hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.  The department has also opened insurance villages where specialists can help Floridians contact their insurance companies and also help consumers get emergency funding from their insurance companies for food, water, or shelter where hazardous conditions exist.

Many insurance companies have also sent mobile units to the DFS site. The insurance villages are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

  • In Broward County at 6901 West Sunrise Boulevard in Plantation (across the street from Plantation High School)
     

  • In Miami-Dade County at Amelia Earhart Park, 401 East 65th Street, Hialeah. 

Assistance is also available in the DFS Consumer Services Offices: 

  • 400 N. Congress Ave., Suite 210, West Palm Beach – (561)640-6700

  • 401 NW 2nd Ave, Suite N307, Miami – (305)536-0300

  • 2295 Victoria Ave, Suite 163, Ft. Myers – (239)461-4000

The department will work to have insurance consumer specialists located in the Disaster Recovery Centers set up by FEMA. 

Gallagher also alerted Floridians to emergency rules enacted by the Florida insurance commissioner in response to Hurricane Wilma:  Homeowners policies cannot be canceled until 90 days after all hurricane damage is repaired.  Also, pharmacies must allow prescriptions to be refilled beyond the standard 30-day supply, so that Floridians who have to evacuate their homes can travel with an adequate supply of medication. Additionally, an order issued today prohibits insurers from canceling or non-renewing policies covering commercial or residential property, automobile, health, life, health maintenance organizations and continuing care retirement centers in 20 counties damaged by Hurricane Wilma.




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