Citizens board schedules emergency meeting to discuss sinkhole insurance rates
Former state Rep. Carlos Lacasa, appointed this week as chairman of the state-run Citizen's Property Insurance board of governors, on Thursday called an emergency meeting for Monday to discuss proposed rate increases to the state-run insurer's sinkhole policies. The agenda calls for discussion of SB408, an insurance reform bill passed in the last session that lifted a 10 percent rate hike cap on sinkhole premiums. In July, Citizens proposed increasing sinkhole insurance premiums by more than 2,000 percent in some parts of the Tampa Bay area, and an average of more than 400 percent across the state.
The rate hike could cost some customers an additional $4,000 per year. The board is also scheduled to discuss phasing in those new rates, rather than imposing them all at once.
Officials with Citizens say the rate increases are necessary because current premiums don't cover payouts for sinkhole claims, and many of those claims are frivolous and fraudulent.
Regardless of the outcome of Monday's meeting, the state Office of Insurance Regulation will go forward with a public hearing in Tampa on Tuesday to review all of Citizens' proposed new rates, including those for sinkhole policies.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he hopes news of the Citizens emergency meeting won't discourage people from attending Tueday's hearing.
Fasano was a vocal opponent of the legislation during the session, and has corralled opposition to the rate hikes. He said he hopes the board will conclude Monday that the rates are not acceptable.
"They're unafforadable," he said. "My hope is that they will step back and take a deep breath and realize these rate increases they've asked for just cannot happen. They're unrealistic. I believe that the overwhelming outcry by the premium payers throughout the state has gotten to the board members of Citizens, and to our governor and to our CFO."
Sean Shaw, founder of the advocacy group Policyholders of Florida, declared victory Thursday in this latest battle against rate hikes.
"The Policyholders of Florida delivered a major wake up call to Citizens Property Insurance," Shaw said in a prepared statement. "It's great to see that they are now reconsidering, but this won't silence our efforts. We will continue to advocate for consumers, including recruiting policyholders to the hearing in Tampa, because that's the only thing that gets attention in Tallahassee. Until our efforts and growing opposition, they seemed fine with 2000% rate hikes – and that's completely unacceptable."