Happytown: Citizens to dump 60,000 customers 

Company that contributes heavily to Gov. Rick Scott re-election effort expected to benefit from the new business

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$110,000

AMOUNT DONATED TO GOV. RICK SCOTT’S RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN IN MARCH BY 9-MONTH-OLD HERITAGE PROPERTY AND CASUALTY COMPANY, IN ADDITION TO $30,000 DONATED TO THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OF FLORIDA

 

$52 MILLION

AMOUNT HERITAGE STANDS TO GAIN WHEN IT TAKES OVER UP TO 60,000 HOME INSURANCE POLICIES FROM STATE-FUNDED CITIZENS PROPERTY INSURANCE CORP.

 

$6.4 BILLION

amount of SURPLUS ACCUMULATED by Citizens SINCE THE LAST HURRICANES HIT FLORIDA IN 2005

 

“AS WE HAVE SAID BEFORE, CITIZENS APPEARS TO BE TONE-DEAF IN EARNING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE.”
– GOV. RICK SCOTT’S CHIEF OF STAFF ADAM HOLLINGSWORTH
SOURCE: The Miami Herald

CITIZENS PAIN

Just as the annual burst of predictably hot air washed out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week – we’re going to have up to 20 named storms and a possible six major hurricanes, y’all! – news came that Florida taxpayer-funded insurer of last resort Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was doing whatever it could to ensure that Florida homeowners will not be effectively covered when the wind blows. If you’ve been paying attention to the boring back-page news feeds of the state, you’ll know by now that Citizens is like a drunk uncle that some people are forced to adopt without even daring to ask him to do anything responsibly. Even Gov. Rick Scott hates Citizens, and everybody hates him. That’s how bad Citizens is.

Well, thanks in part to pressure from Scott and the legislature – because this financial cat’s cradle isn’t already tangled enough – Citizens has been looking to offload some of its clients onto the private market in the interest of lowering taxpayer risk. Willing the risk away doesn’t do much for taxpayers who own homes threatened by hurricanes, though, especially when you consider that the geniuses on the Citizens board – three of the eight didn’t vote, and only three supported, if that gives you any indication – have decided to pawn off 60,000 people to a newly existing company headed by a man with a history of insurance violations. Paging Carl Hiaasen!

Anyway, that leader is Richard Widdicombe, who, according to the Miami Herald, headed several horrible insurance agencies over the last decade and was responsible for “dozens of violations” that resulted in substantial fines. Basically, he sold bills of goods, used unlicensed adjusters and didn’t like to pay claims in a timely fashion. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation investigated one of the companies, People’s Trust Insurance, and ended up fining it $250,000 in 2009, which meant, of course, that Widdicombe stepped down, the company stopped writing new policies, and everybody ran to Citizens.

Widdicombe launched Heritage Property and Casualty Company last year, presumably as a New Man, and set to lobbying Tallahassee via its lobbyist Tom Gallagher, who used to be a state Insurance Commissioner and also, coincidentally, helped create Citizens. Also, reports the Herald, the lobbying firm Gallagher works for is run by Citizens general counsel. No conflict here. Move along.

But the real kicker in this twisted swamp tale is that Heritage has been heavily bankrolling Gov. Scott’s forever-re-election campaign ($110,000 directly, $30,000 to the Republican Party of Florida), so it looks like this deal is so insular that it can’t even remove its head from its own ass. So bad is it that even Republicans in the legislature are balking. The somewhat awesome Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, tweeted the obvious – “Sadly, Tallahassee is for sale” – and everybody involved immediately went po-faced and refused to admit that any of this looks like the public relations disaster that it ought to be.

In the end, people can expect higher rates and worse coverage, because privatization is really what’s best for the people – the people you will never know; the ones who get $52 million with no strings attached from a state-run insurance provider by investing $140,000 in Republicans. And, to recap, the same state government that stared down a $55 billion Medicaid-expansion gift horse in order to avoid the “socialized medicine” of Obamacare is basically allowing fraud to happen in its own socialized home insurance scam via Citizens. It’s our Heritage. Bring on the floods.

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