Fla. Office of Insurance Regulation Implements New Format for Public Hearings

A new format for public hearings and plans to broadcast future hearings on cable television has been announced by Kevin McCarty, Florida Insurance Commissioner.

There will be a public hearing in Tallahassee, Fla. Aug. 3 at 1 p.m. during which a rate filing by First Floridian Auto and Home Insurance Co. will take place. First Floridian is requesting a statewide aggregate rate increase of 24.2 percent, which is subject to a public hearing under Section 627.0629(7), Florida Statutes.

The First Floridian hearing will mark the first use of a new public hearing format developed by OIR similar to the format it uses for workers’ compensation rate hearings. In such hearings, insurance company representatives can be questioned by OIR staff, in addition to consumer advocates and representatives from consumer organizations.

OIR is also working with the Florida Channel, a cable network which operates across Florida, to broadcast the hearings so that interested stakeholders and policyholders can view the hearings without having to travel to the hearing site. Further, streaming video of the hearings will be available 24 hours a day on the Office’s website at http://www.floir.com/.

The new format is also aimed at assuaging concerns by the Florida Consumer Advocate that his actuary has not always been able to be present at public hearings around the state. He has said it will be easier to have his actuary present to cross examine evidence in the forums held at the Capitol.

Historically, OIR Office has held public hearings across the state including such locales as Davie, Jacksonville, Lake Buena Vista, Orlando, Palm Beach Gardens, Key West and Sarasota. However, budgetary constraints have limited the number of professional and legal staff that can be sent to these proceedings. Additionally, the demands of responding to the regulatory needs of an insurance market that is attempting to recover from two devastating hurricane seasons and preparing for another have often proved onerous when professional staff had to leave the OIR for up to two days to conduct hearings.

While OIR believes the hearings in Tallahassee will increase the access and effectiveness of the forums, particularly for insurers with small customer bases and less significant rate actions, it does not plan to abandon efforts to meet first-hand with Floridians who want to voice their concerns about insurance issues or their insurance companies.

The resources used for the statewide hearings will be concentrated on a smaller number of remote hearings, but those hearings will be conducted under the new format. Also, the Florida Channel has indicated it could provide coverage for the concentrated list of remote hearings.

“The Office still believes it is essential that public hearings on rate filings with notable impact on a large number of consumers should be held around the state, but we will be more selective in choosing locales outside Tallahassee for rate hearings,” McCarty said. “In fact, we have already determined that the public hearing for the Nationwide rate filing will be held in the central Florida area. Nationwide Insurance Company of Florida has requested a statewide average rate increase of 71.5 percent for its over 250,000 policyholders in the state of Florida.

OIR will also hold public hearing for Citizens Property Insurance Co. in Monroe County Aug. 1.

OIR also believes that by expanding access through use of technology it can increase the level of comment and participation by the public. Additionally, public comment can be enhanced as policyholders will be able to submit their comments after viewing testimony from all stakeholders. OIR will make avenues of comment available to the public by phone, regular mail, e-mail or in person.

Source: Florida Department of Insurance Regulation