Officials plan to push for condo storm insurance reform

Councilman Ed Feller, with the backing of State Rep. Julio Robaina, plans to urge the state Legislature to consider windstorm insurance reform in its 2006 session.

Article Courtesy of the Miami Herald

Published December 12, 2005

Palmetto Bay Councilman Ed Feller wants the state Legislature to eliminate an imaginary line that was put in place after Hurricane Andrew. Drafted for insurance purposes, it marks the region east of South Dixie Highway as being more vulnerable to wind damage than areas further inland.

Residents to the east pay higher windstorm insurance rates.

Feller said the higher rates are not fair since recent storms have shown that wind damage is more than just a coastal problem. He wants the state to adopt an insurance reform plan.

''The wind doesn't stop at the highway,'' he said. ``The risk of damage probably gradually goes down as you get farther inland, but that is mostly for flood, not wind. I don't think there's any difference in the wind.''

State Rep. Julio Robaina said he agrees with Feller and plans to champion the insurance reform cause in the upcoming Legislative session. They are compiling data to try to prove that windstorm damage has not been worse to the east.

Cutler Bay lawyer John Cosgrove, a former state legislator who drafted the line while serving as chairman of the House Insurance Committee in 1993, said it was a necessary compromise to keep private insurers from pulling out of South Florida.

'Private insurers were trying to say ` We don't want to write any business or homeowner in South Florida. We don't want to put our money at risk,' '' he said.

Some private insurers indeed stuck around while state insurers -- the Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association and the Residential Property and Casualty Joint Underwriting Association, or JUA -- took over many property owners within the line.

Both state insurers merged in 2002 to form Citizens Property Insurance Corp., or CIPC, a state-run program for consumers who can't find coverage in the private market.

The theory behind CIPC was that insurance companies would be more inclined to write standard homeowner policies if the hurricane risks were turned over to the state companies.

The program operates in designated areas in 29 of Florida's 35 coastal counties and primarily applies to areas east of Interstate 95 and, in some counties, U.S. 1.

By law, CIPC charges the highest rates available. The purpose is to encourage homeowners to shop for coverage, but many have no alternative.

''There are few private companies willing to write business,'' said Cosgrove, who is running for mayor of Cutler Bay.

Insurers were already hard to find after Andrew hit in August 1992. But after eight major storms hit the state in the past 15 months, more insurers dropped policies or stopped writing them.

Cosgrove said eliminating the line would only create more problems. ''Once you open that line up, those private insurance companies are going to cancel business west of that line,'' he said.

Feller said change is needed to make insurance available -- and affordable -- to everyone.

Some state legislators have said they are looking at a major overhaul of CIPC. They want to bring back private insurers and possibly create a statewide hurricane insurance pool similar to the national flood insurance program.

The regular Legislative session starts in March.