Citizens Insurance weighs rate hike at Florida meeting

MBRANNIGAN@MIAMIHERALD.COMJune 25, 2013 

As Citizens Property Insurance Corp. maneuvers to jettison hundreds of thousands of Florida homeowner policies to reduce its risk, its board is set to gather in Florida this week to weigh rate hikes for next year.

The meeting, slated to be held Wednesday in downtown Miami, will follow Citizens committee meetings all day Tuesday that will drill down on a variety of topics from market accountability to underwriting.

Citizens is the state-run company created to shoulder windstorm insurance after many others fled the market.

Citizens plans to present two sets of data on proposed rate increases — one based on its own calculations of how much it needs to cover its risks; the other, based on the Office of Insurance Regulation’s figures, which are lower.

Rates might have gone up much more; however, the Florida Legislature this spring balked at lifting the 10  percent cap on Citizens’ rate increases.

Individual premiums that homeowners pay may go up more than 10 percent for a variety of reasons, from a home’s age and type of construction to coverage options.

And rates on optional sinkhole coverage aren’t subject to the cap and could spike much more, depending on the area of the state.

The Board of Governors’ meeting comes as the landscape for homeowners insurance is shifting rapidly. Citizens recently agreed to pay as much as $52 million to Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance Co., a politically connected start-up company in St. Petersburg, for assuming up to 60,000 Citizens’ policies as Citizens scrambles to shrink to its original mandate as insurer of last resort.

“It’s a messy insurance market right now. I don’t know how else to describe it,’’ said Rick Estrella, senior vice president at Estrella Insurance in Miami. “It’s a time now to pick up your policy and sit in front of your agent, because there are options.’’

But perhaps not for all homeowners. As part of the changes approved by the Legislature this year, Citizens plans to dump policies on homes worth more than $1 million in January 2014, and to ratchet down the upper limits to $900,000 in 2015; $800,000 the following year; and $700,000 by 2017.

Homeowners in hurricane-prone coastal areas may have little alternative to surplus lines at lofty prices.

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