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Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

New Orleans, Louisiana


It’s a shame former US Senator John Breaux did not pursue his residency problem in the Louisiana state court system. You see, there’s another outsider in a Southern state that could be exactly the candidate Louisiana is desperate looking for. And any Louisiana gubernatorial wannabe would do well to study what has made this guy so successful.

The newly elected Governor of Florida faces many the same problems being dealt with here Louisiana. And so far, voters are toasting him like a rock star. Florida’s new governor, Charlie Crist, is a Republican who’s been in office a little over 100 days. His tone and approach to Florida problems are more than refreshing. Every citizen he meets he greets as “my boss.” He continually travels the state, and “listens” a lot more than he talks. He has given his personal cell phone number to every member of the legislature, Democrat Republican alike. I wonder how many Republican legislators in Louisiana have the Governor’s personal cell phone number? His number one priority? Insurance reform.

This was his major campaign issue to get elected, and he’s put insurance problems on the front burner since the day he took office. And how about the day he took office? Governors traditionally have a full day of inaugural activities including a Governors Ball. Not Charlie Crist. He canceled all his planned activities saying that until he got a handle on insurance problems and started to see property rates go down, there would be no dancing in the Governor’s mansion.

What do Florida voters think of the job he is doing? The most recent statewide poll showed that 73% of voters — including 71% of Democrats — approve of the job the Governor is doing. His predecessor, Jeb Bush, was also popular, but the highest numbers he ever received were 62%.

Crisp gathered up Florida legislators before he took office and went off on a three-day retreat to listen to insurance experts, consumer groups, and generally “got educated” about the complications of finding reasonable solutions to high insurance prices. There was a revamp of Florida’s state run company forcing lower rates, and putting it in direct competition with private insurers. A state run “catastrophic fund” was infused with over $700 million to give a protection layer in case another hurricane hit Florida coast lines. An aggressive mitigation program was put into place, guaranteeing lower rates for homeowners that made their homes more hurricane proof. Joint underwriting associations were authorized so that similar businesses could get together and self insure. Simply put, Florida instituted some common sense approaches that, so far, Louisiana officials have barely acknowledged.

In Louisiana, the insurance climate could not be more dysfunctional. Property rates for homeowners and businesses continue to escalate. The state run Citizens Property Insurance Company is in meltdown, having filed no financial statements or been able to balance its check book in years. And so far, little “will” to solve the problem has emanated from various state officials who could make a difference.

This lack of commitment was summed up well the past few days when the Insurance Commissioner punted a la Foti by throwing up his hands and crying for federal help. His solution? “The Calvary that is going to save the Alamo is the federal government,” he suggested to a legislative insurance committee. Just let the feds do it. He must have missed recent statements from two coastal senators who threw cold water on any federal help. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd both recently said any federal catastrophic fund is just wishful thinking. So for Louisiana to put in eggs in any federal basket is an effort in futility.

So far, Louisiana officials have been slow to embrace any of the Florida proposals. We keep hearing about how the private sector may pack up and leave if the state becomes too aggressive in adopting the Florida approach. So how successful are Florida’s efforts? Allstate just filled for a 16% reduction in the rates the company charges its Florida customers. Not a bad beginning.

The good news in Louisiana is that it’s an election year. I can tell from my daily radio calls that there is an angry electorate looking for specifics and not just “song titles” from those who want to lead. The coming session of the Louisiana legislature could and should be a meaningful “do or die” opportunity to institute a major restructuring of the insurance regulatory system. If the legislature pulls a Foti and does only the cosmetic wash over being talked about by some legislators and insurance officials now, there will be plenty of election fodder for opponents come fall election time.

************* “Politics are for foreigners with their endless wrongs and paltry rights. Politics are a lousy way to get things done. Politics are, like God’s infinite mercy, a last resort. “

P.J. O’Rourke

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s weekly column appears in a number of newspapers throughout the State of Louisiana. You can read Jim’s Blog, and take his weekly poll, plus read his columns going back to the fall of 2002 by going to his own website at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

Also, tune in Jim’s radio show on thenew995fm.com from New Orleans. It is streamed live on the worldwide web at www.thenew995fm.com from 8:00 until 11:00 am, weekdays.

2 Responses
  1. Joe Reynolds

    What is going on with the State Employers Insurance group? I am on the Vantage Health Care Board and understand that the clients in our area are not allowed to become members of the Vantage Health Insurance group.
    I thought we offered the better deal than the others. The patients seemed to be very satisfied. We are domiciled in Louisiana and maybe the powers that be just don’t want Vantage Health Care to be successful.
    We rely on our laurels that we do a good job with our management. What gives? When you can’t figure out what’s happening I always suspect money behind it.
    Joe Reynolds MD

  2. j b landry

    I am not able to find your website which publishes your weekly column which i use to enjoy so much. wwhere can i log onto it?

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