Sinkhole insurance hearing coming to Tampa

TALLAHASSEE — Tampa Bay area property owners will get a chance to speak out against the controversial rate increases proposed by Citizens Property Insurance.

The Office of Insurance Regulation has scheduled a hearing on the proposed new rates for 4 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Tampa Convention Center. Typically, such hearings are held in Tallahassee.

But outcry over a proposal for enormous increases in sinkhole premiums prompted a change of venue. The state-run property insurer has proposed raising rates for the policies by an average of 429 percent statewide, and more than 2,000 percent in some parts of the state, including the Tampa Bay area.

The plan would boost premiums by thousands of dollars for some. The average sinkhole premium in coastal Pasco would jump from $1,270 to $3,598. A policy in Tampa would increase from $156 to $3,651. In coastal Hernando County, premiums would soar from $1,356 to $5,734.

That's on top of a proposed 8.8 percent increase to traditional property insurance premiums.

"Regulators decided to conduct the Citizens' rate hearing in Tampa due to the sinkhole risk in this area and to allow the consumers most affected by the sinkhole issue to have an opportunity to provide input," said Brittany Perez, an insurance office spokeswoman.

Several state lawmakers — including Sens. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, and Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey — called for hearings in areas most affected by the rate hikes.

"I appreciate OIR and Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty accepting our request for a public hearing on Citizens' proposed rate increases," Fasano said. "We encourage everyone to attend if they can and voice their opposition to Citizens' unaffordable and unconscionable premium increases."

The hearing is likely to draw a crowd.

"We'll be there in droves," pledged Sean Shaw, founder of Policyholders of Florida, which has scheduled rallies opposing the rate increases Tuesday in Pasco County.

Comments on the rate proposal can be sent to ratehearings@floir.com, with the word Citizens in the subject line.

Times staff writer Jeff Harrington contributed to this report.

Sinkhole insurance hearing coming to Tampa 08/12/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 10:52pm]

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