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Florida’s state-backed insurer Citizens see policies piling up amid industry turmoil

Citizens had 887,847 policies as of last week.
Barry Gilway, president of Citizens Property Insurance, said he expects lawmakers to take additional steps to address issues in the property insurance market.
Barry Gilway, president of Citizens Property Insurance, said he expects lawmakers to take additional steps to address issues in the property insurance market.
Published Jun. 10

TALLAHASSEE — The state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. added about 12,000 policies last week amid continuing fallout of private insurers shutting down or shedding policies.

Citizens, which was created as an insurer of last resort, had 887,847 policies as of June 3, Chief Operating Officer Kelly Booten said Wednesday. As illustrations of its growth, Citizens had 609,805 policies as of May 31, 2021, and 463,247 policies as of May 31, 2020.

“This is one of those stories that, unfortunately, the news is not getting better with time,” Booten told members of the Citizens Market Accountability Advisory Committee.

Citizens has steadily grown as private insurers have dropped customers and sought large rate increases amid financial losses. It recently has averaged about 7,000 additional policies a week, spokesman Michael Peltier said.

Citizens also has received influxes of customers as insurers have gone into receivership or otherwise stopped writing or renewing coverage.

Related: When Florida's property insurers fail, few ask why

As an example, Booten said Citizens wrote about 13,000 policies for former customers of Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co., which was placed into receivership in March. That reflected 39 percent of the policies that Avatar had in the state.

As another example, she said Citizens could receive about half of the 68,200 customers that are being canceled by FedNat Insurance Co., Maison Insurance Co. and Monarch National Insurance Co., which have been part of the same holding company.

Gov. Ron DeSantis called a special legislative session last month to try to shore up the insurance market. Lawmakers passed a series of changes, including setting aside $2 billion to help provide critical reinsurance to insurers; addressing roof-damage claims; and taking steps to restrict attorney fees in lawsuits against insurers.

But it remains unclear how much short-term help the changes will provide. The financial rating agency AM Best said in a report earlier this month that the changes “are unlikely to alleviate immediate financial pressures” on insurers.

Also, the rating agency Demotech posted information Monday that said it had withdrawn a financial stability rating for Southern Fidelity Insurance Co. Demotech pointed to Southern Fidelity being unable to finish purchasing reinsurance, which is critical backup coverage, for this year’s hurricane season.

Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway said during Wednesday’s meeting that he expects lawmakers to take additional steps to address issues such as litigation costs, which insurers have long blamed for financial problems. Gilway suggested that the steps could come after the November elections, which will usher in new House and Senate leaders.

“We’ve had conversations with legislators following (the special session), and there’s absolutely no question that they see this as an interim step and that, with new leadership after November, there’s definitely potential to make even more headway relative to the litigation issue and some real serious tort reform,” Gilway said.

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But Gilway and at least two members of the committee appeared skeptical of part of the new legislation that prevents insurers from refusing to provide coverage to homes with roofs that are less than 15 years old if the decisions are based solely on the ages of the roofs.

Related: Florida lawmakers pass insurance bills with $10,000 for home upgrades

Insurers blame questionable, if not fraudulent, roof damage claims for driving up costs. At least some companies had stopped covering homes with roofs that, for example, were more than 10 years old.

But Gilway and committee member Lori Williams said they are concerned that the 15-year threshold in the bill could result in insurers not writing new business.

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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