Insurance Regulation – Florida Braces As State Farm Waves Goodbye

This week, State Farm Insurance Company, the largest private property insurer in the state, announced that they are pulling out of Florida after sustaining huge losses and being denied rate increases.

I am no fan of the games and scams of the insurance industry. Even though insurance makes our modern lives and way of life possible, it is fraught with problems. Insurance companies regularly mistreat their own customers. They delay, deny and minimize claims as standard operating procedure. But they also pay a lot of claims, too, and deserve to make a profit.

Into this environment come the insurance regulators of the 50 states. They try to protect the consumer. Their regulations swing from too much to too little, just like a pendulum. But, right now in Florida, the insurance regulators’ pendulum has swung to over-regulation. The regulators and state legislators have bungled the insurance marketplace in Florida, and consumers are going to get burned.

The Florida Department of Insurance has not produced evidence that the insurance market has failed, which might explain stiff price regulation in lieu of simply allowing competition in the marketplace to regulate premiums.

During the last 15-year period, Florida insurers have been unprofitable as a group. Dozens of insurers have stopped operating in the state. Simply denying rate increases does not benefit consumers. As insurers stop writing policies in Florida, reducing competition makes consumers worse off, with higher premiums and limited choices.

In response to insurance company exits since Hurricane Andrew, Florida legislators created Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (CPIC), an unprofitable state-run insurer that sells its policies below cost. This ridiculous pricing, paired with insurer exits, makes CPIC the insurer of over half of Florida’s homeowners. Because CPIC is losing money, and owned by the state, these losses will eventually require taxpayers and consumers to bail out yet another insolvent corporation.

With State Farm’s departure from Florida, CPIC may end up insuring 80% of the homes in the state. CPIC is nearly insolvent right now. All it will take is one more major catastrophic hurricane to finish it off. However, it will be the Florida consumers and taxpayers that will be finished off when they are forced by the state legislature to bail out the state-run insurer.

The over-regulation of insurance companies was also recently shown in New Jersey. Just like in Florida, New Jersey lawmakers and regulators had over-regulated the car insurance marketplace to the point that insurance companies left the state in droves. New Jersey drivers found it nearly impossible to buy car insurance at any price. In 2003, the lawmakers and regulators regained their sanity and enacted reforms that brought back competitive pricing to car insurance. Rates are dropping and citizens can once again find affordable car insurance in New Jersey.

State regulators sometimes do more harm than good. Occasionally, they get it right.