Floridians grapple with nation's highest insurance costs

By Doug Walker – bio | email

PENSACOLA, FL (WLOX) - Pensacola, Florida is a city rich in history, known for its old time beauty and its world class tourism industry. A city that has been growing steadily in the past.

But in recent years, the economic brakes have been applied.  And the reason is clear, according to Evon Emerson.  She is the president of the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.

"It is so difficult in this state right now for people to get insurance, it is so high if you get it," Emerson said.  "We have a lot of carriers not writing insurance anymore. They have moved away and we have become a victim of Citizens, which is our state insurance company.

Many Floridians are proud to call it home and they're very happy here. One thing they are not so proud of? Their state has the highest home insurance rates in the country, and that means homes sit on the market longer before they're sold.

Kim Gibbons is a realtor with Beach Ball Realty.  Lately, the ball has been bouncing the wrong way because of what Gibbons calls a deep seeded perception.

"What I'm finding is that once a week or more I have somebody tell me that it common knowledge that you can't get insurance here," Gibbons said.

You can get insurance, although it may not be from a private company.

Kathy Hubbard is expanding and renovating her downtown Pensacola home.  She is convinced she will be forced into the state run wind pool, but said that's not a bad thing.

"It's very limited, what's available," Hubbard said.  "A lot of times the state pool, Citizens Insurance, is the least expensive and the best coverage. "

What is bad is how insurance costs affect small businesses.  Gigi Cook owns and operates a furniture and home decorating store on Perdido Key.  On this day, there's a big chill on the driveway leading to the store's front door. Cook said she is also chilled by the insurance bill she gets every month.

"It costs up more money to operate on a monthly basis, and, of course, someone's going to have to pay for that," Cook said. "But for as much as some say that the customer will pay for it, that's not necessarily true because of loss of traffic in our area."

And that loss of traffic takes a very human toll, according to Cook.

"In an effort to keep the people who have been working with us for such a long period of time, they have agreed to reduce their salaries or reduce their income just in an effort to keep some cash flow coming."

The geography of Florida contributes to the problem, according to state Representative Dave Murzin.

"From Pensacola to Miami to Jacksonville, the coastal counties have about $3 trillion in exposure, far more than New York, far more than California, far more than Hawaii," Murzin said. "Fourteen of the risk on the globe is in Florida."

Murzin has heard of Congressman Gene Taylor's all-perils plan, but doesn't think it will work.

"So let's put it all under one umbrella and keep it artificially low.  At what point do we say, 'Okay, we don't have the money to pay for that.' Because if we do create something like that, where's the federal government going to come up with the money to cover that wind damage or those floods that occur?" Murzin asked. "Right now, they're $3 billion in the hole based on their past experience."

Back at the chamber, the calls keep coming in and Emerson keeps answering.

"It is probably one of the top two issues that for businesses in this community that they really want the legislature to pay attention to. And we absolutely have got to find a way to make it easier for people to live and work in Florida, and this is not it," Emerson said.

And there's not a lot of hope change will come anytime soon, realtor Gibbons said.

"I haven't seen anything that would make me feel the insurance problem is going to get better," Gibbons said.

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