Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Citizens' weird behavior.

A few years ago, a couple of hurricane strikes were enough for most of insurance companies to drop their Florida hurricane policies; and they did it without a second thought.

Citizens was then created to fill the void and Citizens actually did a pretty good job, insuring our properties at reasonable rates, and acceptable coverage. Actually Citizens confronted the 2005 hurricane season losses with efficiency and few complaints. 


In recent years, and after many "no-hurricane" seasons, Florida drew again the attention of the greedy eyes of Mr. Big Insurance. Powerful political, economical pressure was then exerted to help private insurers come back to the once disdained Sunrise State, with the unveiled purpose of weakening and eliminating in the long term the generally efficient state-sponsored Citizens. However and since homeowners and all insured in general had no reason to drop a good Citizens policy, at affordable premiums, something had to be done to force the re-privatization of the industry.

The excuse: "Citizens is taking too much risks and homeowners could be affected in a case of a strong hurricane" (in spite of the huge reserves being accumulated by Citizens). 


Nothing new of course. Privatization of juicy business by supposedly "more efficient" corporations, whenever they see the opportunity, and no-remorse dropping any public service as soon as it doesn't measure to high profit expectations is nothing new. 


Nobody can deny that Citizens has been doing a good job. They were able to accumulate sizable reserves in just a few years, not unlike the many "quiet" years that preceded hurricane Andrews, when private insurers had the same opportunities. 


Even though some of their executives were accused of spending too much on entertainment, nobody can deny that its management was not worse and was perhaps even better than many a publicly traded private corporation.  


However, Citizens and our government are now playing the game of those who have already decided its demise. 


I read with some indignation the following article in the Sun Sentinel.


I can assure my readers that its contents are totally correct because I was almost a victim of one of these "innocent" letters informing that I would be contacted by a private insurance company willing to replace my Citizens coverage; 


Of course these letters didn't mention that, if I didn't take any action, I would be automatically dropping my Citizens insurance in favor of a private company that could at any time increase at will my premiums and alter their coverage. 


I am not an expert in insurance. But I can feel a scheme from time to time. And this is not what we would expect from a state sponsored entity that is supposed to protect us. 


 (Of course, this is only my modest opinion...)

 Read on: (From the Sun Sentinel)

Citizens to warn owners about proposed ‘takeouts’

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Dec. 10, 2014 – Policyholders with the state's "insurer of last resort" will now get a heads-up letter before being formally notified by a private insurance company that their policy has been selected for transfer, Citizens Property Insurance Co. announced Tuesday in a news release.

The new notification letters will go out to Citizens customers targeted for transfer to one of 27 private "takeout" companies authorized by the state Office of Insurance Regulation to help reduce the insurance risk carried by the state-owned company.

The decision to notify policyholders in advance is a response to complaints that "takeout" letters from private insurance companies hit mailboxes looking like solicitations and are often thrown away unopened, Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said.

"It's a valid concern," Peltier said. Policyholders who throw away their takeout letters can miss the 60-day deadline to stay with Citizens if they don't want their policies transferred to a private company. Citizens officials expect that policyholders will be more likely to open a letter from their insurance company, Peltier said.

The state also is requiring takeout companies to provide a comparison of their premiums with Citizens' either in the takeout letter or by directing the policyholder to call a telephone number.

Rick Winterrowd, a Hollywood-based property insurance agent, said the heads-up letter – known as an "encouragement letter" because Citizens wants policyholders to transfer – is a step in the right direction. But he said Citizens' encouragement letters fail to tell customers their premiums could increase when it's time to renew policies with private companies.

Citizens' letters also downplay customers' right to opt out of the takeout, he said. The explanation comes below language warning they face up to a 45 percent surcharge if they remain with Citizens and a devastating storm strikes.

With Citizens sitting on $7.6 billion in reserves after nine years without a major storm, "the only way they'd face that 45 percent surcharge is if South Florida is destroyed by a hurricane," Winterrowd said.

Over the past few years, Citizens has been moving aggressively to reduce the amount of property it insures in the state through what it calls a "depopulation program."

The program encourages smaller private companies to take over the Citizens policies and since November 2011, the number of Citizens policies has been reduced from 1.5 million to 727,000.

In 2014, the state approved 1.1 million policies for takeout, and 185,405 were removed. So far for 2015, 315,508 policies have been approved for takeout.

Citizens' new policy of notifying customers ahead of the takeout companies should begin in January, when targeted policyholders must get 30 days' advance notice of their mid-February transfer date, Peltier said.

Targeted policyholders have 30 days prior to the takeout date to fill out and mail a form opting out of the takeout. Customers who are switched also have 30 days after the takeout to revert back to their Citizens coverage.

Citizens also plans to establish a Depopulation Working Group to look into customers' questions and concerns, the news release said. The working group, expected to begin meeting next year, will include representatives from the Office of Insurance Regulation, insurance agents, private companies and consumer advocates.


My advice?

Heads up and open your eyes if you receive any envelope from Citizens or any other Insurance Company. 


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