Insurers blame assignment of benefits for increased fraud, higher insurance rates

About 125 insurers marched on state Capitol

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Insurers from across the state were at the state Capitol on Wednesday advocating against a practice that allows contractors to sue the company without the policyholder's knowledge. They blame what is called assignment of benefits for increased fraud and higher insurance rates in the state.

About 125 insurers marched on the state Capitol to spread the word about an issue they say is driving up insurance rates in the state.

When you sign a form to allow your doctor to bill your insurance company, you are doing what is called assignment of benefits.

When it comes to home repairs, similar agreements are often hidden in the repair contracts. Often, they allow a contractor to sue a person's insurer without that person's consent or knowledge.

Insurers say some attorneys are abusing the system.

"In my opinion, there's huge fraud here," said Barry Gilway, president and chief executive officer of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Lawsuits filed on behalf of homeowners have increased by 6,800 percent since 2006.

"The ultimate payer in this situation is the consumers. They will pay the price," Gilway said. "Otherwise, you won't have any insurance companies that will do business in this state."

The House has passed a bill that would allow people to back out of assignment of benefit agreements and put restrictions on when attorneys can collect fees.

Jeff Grant, who owns Bone Dry Restoration and Cleaning, said he's low-balled by almost every insurer he deals with. He said assignment of benefits helps him recover full costs and ensures consumers' repairs are up to standards.

"If they can save $50 in doing the wrong thing, then they're going to try to save $50," Grant said. "They don't truly take the consumer into account in any of this."

Florida is ranked as having the fifth-worst legal climate in the country. Insurers say assignment of benefits fraud is a major factor in the ranking.

A poll by the Florida Chamber of Commerce found 4 out of 5 Floridians don't think contractors should be able to sue their insurers without their knowledge.