By John Haughey
The Center Square
April 27, 2020
(The Center Square) – Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier delivered some good news and some bad news Friday to business leaders planning the state’s post-pandemic recovery.
The good news, he said, is businesses may not see employee health insurance premiums increase because, with the health care system almost exclusively focused on combating COVID-19, insurers are seeing fewer claims in other areas.
The bad news is financial losses attributed to pandemics are not are covered under most “business interruption policies,” Altmaier told the 30-member Re-Open Florida Task Force Industry Working Group on Agriculture, Finance, Government, Healthcare, Management and Professional Service.
The group, led by Senate President-designate Wilton Simpson, R-Longwood, is one of four panels identifying obstructions and forwarding ideas to the task force’s 22-member executive committee.
The executive committee was expected to present Gov. Ron DeSantis with a statewide reopening plan by Friday but is not likely to do so until next week.
Executive Committee Chair Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez asked working group members to email suggestions to the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget by Sunday.
DeSantis praised the work of the four industry groups Friday after each met for more than 20 hours over the week in teleconferences.
“A lot of great ideas culled and presented,” he said. “We’re going to figure out a way to get back. That will be a bright spot – the fact that we were thoughtful and methodical in doing this.”
Among moves being made to help businesses reopen, Altmaier said, is the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) has encouraged insurers to develop protocols for employers to test workers. Insurers have waived cost-sharing for testing, with more than half paying co-pays for treatment through at least June, he said.
Altmaier said OIR is closely monitoring litigation trends, adding OIR is looking at long-term effects and tracking emergent risks for the insurance sector. Altmaeir was among task force members who underscored the need to consider how litigation could affect businesses as they attempt reopen.
Unfortunately, Altmaier said, there’s little state insurance regulators can do for businesses only now realizing insurance policies covering financial losses stemming from involuntary and emergency shutdowns do not include pandemics.
The commissioner said this issue could potentially introduce major financial ramifications for carriers that issued those policies.
“A lot of (insurers) have suggested retroactive coverage. They did not intend for that to be covered and did not provide dollars for that,” Altmaier said. “Policymakers around the world grapple with this issue. It is an issue not only in Florida but nationwide.”
Florida Dental Association President Dr. Rudy Liddell said his constituents are eager for DeSantis to lift the state’s ban on elective procedures and to designate dentistry as essential.
He said about a quarter of Florida dentists surveyed by the association said they would not be able to reopen their practices if they remain closed through May. Nearly half would go out of business if they could not reopen before July 1, he said.
“If these dentists can’t reopen their practices, this could hurt dental access for years to come,” Liddell said.
The state association and its national affiliate has developed protocols for workers and patients that include prescreening questions, temperature checks and quick COVID-19 tests, Liddell said, adding patients will be required to call ahead to reduce waiting room times and “patient-to-patient interaction.”
“My message isn’t one of gloom and doom but optimism and assurance that Florida’s dentists are ready to get back,” Liddell said.