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Citizens Insurance Nears 700,000 Policies

The state’s insurer of last resort has grown about 38% in the past year. Lawmakers could again look for ways to curb that growth in the 2022 legislative session.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With Citizens Property Insurance Corp. nearing 700,000 policies, lawmakers could again look for ways to curb growth in the state-backed insurer.

Citizens at the end of August had 687,079 policies as it continues to add thousands of customers a week, according to newly posted information on the insurer’s website. The August total was up from 661,150 policies on July 31 and 638,263 policies on June 30.

Perhaps more telling, Citizens had 499,056 policies on Aug. 31, 2020 – representing nearly 38 percent growth over the past year.

State leaders have long sought to shift policies from Citizens into the private insurance market, in part to reduce financial risks if major hurricanes hit the state. Worries have particularly focused on heavily populated Southeast Florida, where many homeowners have few – if any –- other choices for coverage.

But for more than a year, the private insurance market has tightened, with companies passing along large rate increases and dropping customers to reduce exposure to claims. That has spurred growth in Citizens, with industry officials saying the state-backed insurer often charges lower premiums than private carriers.

Lawmakers during this spring’s legislative session passed a measure to try to slow Citizens’ growth and bolster the private market. For example, the bill (SB 76) allowed larger annual rate increases for customers of Citizens. Such increases had been capped at 10%, but the bill will gradually raise that limit to 15%.

As lawmakers begin preparing for the 2022 session, which will start in January, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed a bill this week that would go further in trying to nudge homeowners toward private insurers. Brandes was critical of the bill that passed during this spring’s session, calling it “40% of what it needed to be.”

The 51-page bill (SB 186) that Brandes filed this week addresses issues such as allowing what are known as surplus-lines insurers to take part in programs aimed at removing policies from Citizens. Surplus-lines insurers typically do not face the same regulations as other insurers and often provide coverage on higher-risk properties.

Under Brandes’ bill, owners of residences with replacement costs of $700,000 or more would not be able to receive coverage from Citizens if they are offered comparable coverage by surplus-lines insurers at prices that are within 15% of what Citizens would charge. Owners of residents with replacement costs under $700,000 could remain eligible for Citizens coverage if they are offered policies from surplus-lines insurers.

In addition to Brandes’ proposal, the Exposure Reduction Committee of the Citizens Board of Governors is scheduled next week to discuss “legislative concepts” aimed at slowing policy growth and reducing financial exposure.

Among the possible ideas is trying to move Citizens customers into the private market when their Citizens policies come up for renewal. That could include making customers ineligible for renewal if they receive offers from private insurers within 20% of what Citizens would charge, according to material prepared for the Tuesday committee meeting.

© 2021 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.