Poll: Voters Willing to Pay Higher Insurance Bills

Poll: Voters Willing to Pay Higher Insurance Bills
By Michael Peltier | The News Service of Florida


TALLAHASSEE — Facing a potential veto by a reluctant governor, the Florida Chamber of Commerce has released a poll indicating voters are willing to pay more for property insurance than state regulators think they should.

Hoping to tip the balance, the Chamber polls shows 60 percent of respondents favor allowing policy holders to make the decision on whether to stay with their insurance companies regardless of how much they charge.

Lawmakers in May passed HB 1171, which allows the state’s largest property insurance companies to raise rates without Office of Insurance Regulation approval.

“Clearly Florida’s voters not only support increasing consumers’ property insurance options in the marketplace, they believe Gov. (Charlie) Crist should sign it in order to ease concerns about the current insurance market,” said Marian Johnson, vice president for political affairs at the Chamber of Commerce. “This poll shows Florida voters are paying close attention to this issue as we move into the 2010 elections.”

Last week Crist said he would likely veto the bill, which would allow large insurance carriers meeting certain capitalization requirements to raise premiums without state approval. Several observers – and many lawmakers – said the bill might help keep State Farm from leaving the state following an ongoing dispute with regulators over its rates. State Farm never made any promises about staying, but supported the bill.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. William Proctor, R-St. Augustine, said it was actually prompted by a question from a constituent about another insurer that wanted to raise rates. The idea behind the bill, Proctor said, was that when an insurance company wants to raise rates, some people might be willing to pay the higher premium for a company they know will be able to pay claims, versus a smaller start-up that may not.

The bill was pushed by State Farm, which announced in January it was leaving the state after OIR refused the company’s request for a 47-percent increase.

Though insurance companies provide a valued service to the state – and it’s not good when they leave – Crist said deregulating them further at this point would not be a good idea.

“Insurance companies are important to have, particularly in a setting we’re in right now,” Crist said.  “It is also important to have appropriate regulation as it relates to the commissioner’s job to keep rates low for the citizens of Florida. That’s my current view of it and I look forward to the bill coming to me.”

The poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies has a margin of error of 3.5 percent. It showed 60 percent of Florida voters believe Crist should sign the measure. Meanwhile, only 24 percent disagree.

The chamber poll also showed: 

  • 70 percent of respondents approve of Crist’s job performance
  • 58 percent of Republican respondents support for Crist in the U.S. Senate race, compared to 17 percent for former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami.
  • 60 percent of Florida voters are either “very” or “somewhat” worried that their insurance company may not be able to pay their claim if the state is hit with more hurricanes this summer, like in 2004 and 2005.
  • 53 percent of respondents believe the state is heading off track.