Florida's workers' compensation system, once the target of business groups angered over skyrocketing rates, is financially healthy and -- unlike property insurance remains almost entirely in the private market -- according to an annual report released Wednesday by state regulators.
In an update on the statewide system, the Office of Insurance Regulation noted that changes made in 2003 and 2004 to rein in costs have been largely successful in keeping rates down in both the voluntary and residual markets.
The report was given an enthusiastic welcome from business groups and insurers, representatives of which said Wednesday that legislative action has led to a relatively stable, reliable marketplace dominated by small carriers.
"Economic good news has been tough to come by, but the continued improvements in our workers' compensation insurance system are welcome news for Florida's workers and employers," said Bob Lotane, spokesman for the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. "The reforms brought about by Governor Bush and the Legislature in 2003 continue to pay dividends in taking a moribund workers' compensation system and making it competitive, fair and affordable."
Among its key findings, the report found that Florida's workers' compensation market is healthy enough to encourage private companies to provide coverage. Unlike property insurance, which has required a substantial government effort to remain viable, the workers' compensation system remains competitive and not overly concentrated in the hands of a few providers.
The largest single insurer in the state, Bridgefield Employers Insurance Co., has a market share of 12.6 percent.
"Florida continues to be the largest state in the country for which the private market insurance industry is the dominant provider of workers' compensation insurance," the report notes.
Further, reforms made a few years ago that included a cap on attorney fees have resulted in Florida having one of the most profitable markets for workers' comp carriers among the nation's most populous states, the report said.
"Florida continues to have a reliable and affordable workers' compensation system for workers and the business community," said Teye Reeves, of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber, will however, seek legislation to change the way some workers' compensation clinics repackage prescription drugs, a practice OIR contends was a significant factor in its decision last year to approve a 9 percent increase in workers' comp premiums.
The relative health of the market is not without its detractors. Rich Templin, lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, said cost reductions and stability have come at a price of reduced benefits, which affects more than an injured worker.
"The only beneficiaries under Florida workers' compensation system are the carriers," Templin said. "Employers don't get their workers back in a timely fashion because the insurer has denied the claim."