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Citizens plan could send rates soaring for new customers

TALLAHASSEE — If Citizens Property Insurance Corp. moves forward with a controversial plan to uncap rates for new customers, the price to join state-run insurance will increase by an average of 30 percent next year.

Data prepared for a Citizens committee meeting on Thursday show the plan would lead to significantly higher premiums in most cases, and homeowners in some parts of the state would pay twice as much as their neighbors for the same coverage.

The plan — which Citizens agreed to study more closely after it sparked public outcry last month — is part of the insurer's aggressive push to reduce its risk and shrink in size. Central to its strategy is finding ways around a 10 percent cap on rate increases put into place by the Florida Legislature in 2009.

Christine Turner Ashburn, spokeswoman for Citizens, said the proposal is one of several options the insurer is looking at to help reduce the risk of financial calamity after a hurricane.

"In reviewing the law, a question was raised about whether or not the statute (required) a rate cap for new business," she said.

Citizens' rationale for uncapping rates is that the 2009 law specifically addresses rate "increases," so new customers should not be covered by the law.

The plan — which still has to receive board approval before advancing — would have varying impacts for homeowners in different parts of the state, according to data prepared by Citizens' staff.

The cost of a new homeowners policy in parts of Hillsborough County, for example, increase by up to 10 percent. Pasco County wind-only policies could jump 31.6 percent. Some policies — mostly condo owners' — would become cheaper under the proposal.

Citizens sees uncapping rates as a way to raise more revenue to cover expenses if a storm hits and help make state-run insurance less attractive when compared to the private market. With more than 1.4 million policyholders, the bulk of whom are located in South Florida and the Tampa Bay area, Citizens is the state's largest property insurance company.

Gov. Rick Scott has asked the board of Citizens to look for ways to reduce its exposure and shore up its finances.

Citizens estimates that uncapping rates would bring in about $100 million more revenue each year, with average premiums for new customers 30.5 percent higher than for existing ones. In some counties, new customers have made up as much as 70 percent of all Citizens' business in recent years.

Additionally, Citizens is pushing plans to automatically drop certain homeowners — in sinkhole-prone counties, for instance — and then reapprove them after an inspection or renovation. When those homeowners rejoin Citizens, they would be doing so at the "new customer" rate, potentially costing them hundreds of dollars in higher premiums.

Citizens plan could send rates soaring for new customers 05/15/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 9:36pm]
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