TALLAHASSEE — Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty dramatically reduced the amount that the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. can charge home and business owners for sinkhole coverage late Monday.
McCarty ruled Citizens failed to provide evidence to support its bid to raise rates on an average of more than 440 percent on sinkhole coverage. He instead set the maximum at 32.8 percent.
"Although more credible data and study is required, these established rates will start Citizens on the path of having a sound rate for their sinkhole risk," McCarty said.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, issued a statement late Monday praising the decision.
He noted that protests from residents had an effect.
"Due to the efforts of a few of my colleagues, but most importantly the countless residents who protested, wrote letters, sent e-mails and attended the Sept. 13 public hearing, Citizens will only be getting a small fraction of what they have requested."
Fasano said Pasco and Hernando county residents would see an increase of about $350 a year — much less than the $4,500 to $6,000 increase that originally had been proposed.
The effective dates for the new rates on homeowners and dwelling fire policies are Jan. 1 for new and renewal multiperil business, and Feb. 1 for new and renewal wind-only business.
Existing Citizens customers will see a rate increase on average of 6.2 percent on standard homeowner policies under McCarty's ruling.
"While this rate hike approval is much less terrible than the original plan, it still hurts," consumer advocate Sean Shaw said. "There is no reason to believe that it won't be much worse next year."
The board that oversees Citizens held an emergency conference call last week and voted to cap rate hikes for sinkhole coverage at 50 percent in 2012 and then phase in future hikes over the next several years.
The new chairman of the Citizens board, Carlos Lacasa, said the decision to phase in the rate hikes was an effort to highlight the severity of the sinkhole claims crisis while allowing time for provisions of a new state law to moderate future rate need.
The Legislature passed a broad property insurance bill (SB 408) earlier this year that members said would help drive down costs for private insurers and stabilize the state's fragile market. That measure eliminated a 10 percent statutory cap on sinkhole rates and also enacted fundamental changes to reduce sinkhole losses. The new law would have also allowed Citizens to raise rates to whatever level it believed necessary to offset losses. The company has more than 1.4 million policyholders across the state.
"The office's decision is intended to reflect the Legislature's intention to give Citizens actuarially supportable rates for the sinkhole portion of the premium," McCarty said.
Citizens received about $32 million in premiums for sinkhole coverage in 2010 compared with losses and loss-related expenses estimated at $245 million.
Staff writers Alex Leary and Chris Tisch contributed to this report.