On July 21, the State of Florida took a concrete step toward protecting the rights of consumers against the corporate might of the insurance industry. Jeff Atwater, State Chief Financial Officer, announced that insurance industry “watchdog” Robin Westcott would serve as Insurance Consumer Advocate. Atwater suggested that Ms. Wescott’s comprehensive understanding of the insurance system as well as her fierce passion for protecting the rights of Florida consumers made her the obvious choice for the position
According to CFO Atwater, Westcott was a vocal critic of the insurance industry, calling on these companies to produce data on specific insurance products and asking for accountability when insurance companies began packing on vague and unaccountable fees.
However, consumer rights activists are outraged at Atwater’s choice.
They claim that in her last position, she was on watch as a wave of property insurance failures swept across the state of Florida. In fact, they argue that Wescott, far from a Consumer Advocate, is a bureaucrat most comfortable hobnobbing behind closed doors with lobbyists and even the insurance companies themselves. Those who oppose Westcott note the purpose of the Advocate is to act as an independent agent on behalf of citizens against insurance rate increases and to represent consumer interests before the Legislature.
Atwater positioned Westctott in just this way. His official press release argued she “is committed to holding insurance companies accountable and to ensuring consumers get exactly what they pay for and are protected from fraud and abuse. She has seen firsthand the tactics used to game the system and simply won’t stand for it.”
However, Westcott’s involvement in 2009 with the regulation of American Keystone Insurance suggest a different set of loyalties.
Hurricanes are the most tangible and devastating threat to property in the State of Florida, yet official records reveal Westcott knew as early as July 2009 that Keystone had taken on too much risk and would become insolvent in the event of a storm. However, she allowed Keystone to continue to operate through hurricane season, paying bills with revenue from new policies.
Westcott maintains she had no reason to inform the public of Keystone’s shaky positioning.
Despite these criticisms, Atwater insists Westcott is the right person for the job, arguing “Robin will be an ardent, outspoken and persistent advocate for Florida’s insurance consumers.”
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