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Thursday, September 20 2012

MIAMI – Sept. 20, 2012 – The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has a public meeting scheduled tonight in Miami to hear from policyholders about proposed rate increases by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. A group that opposes the rate increases – Policyholders of Florida – is rallying members to attend.

Anyone interested in the issue can watch the event online. The meeting, scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. at Wolfson Campus Chapman Center at Miami-Dade College – will be televised on The Florida Channel. If watching, select Channel 9. The Office of Insurance Regulation says it will also post a video of the hearing on its website after the event “at a later date.”

The public outreach event will, according to Florida officials, focusing on proposed rate increases for its business in the Coastal Account, formally known as the High Risk Account (HRA), and the Personal Lines Account (PLA). These accounts include homeowners’ insurance, mobile home insurance and dwelling/fire lines of business.

Citizens plans additional filings for its Commercial Lines Account and commercial lines of business within its Coastal Account in the future, but evidence about the commercial filing might also come up at tonight’s hearing.

Citizens’ proposed statewide average rate increases for its homeowners’ line of business, including sinkhole, are:

• 11.1 percent for the Coastal Account
• 12 percent for the Personal Lines Account.
• Sinkhole coverage rates are slated to drop an average of 35.1 percent in non-coastal Palm Beach County and increase 111.9 percent in Marion County.
• Key sinkhole counties of Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco reflect a 50 percent increase.

“Citizens wants to raise your rates – nothing new. This Thursday in Miami, you have an opportunity to tell them what you think,” Policyholders of Florida says in its news release encouraging the public to attend the meeting. The group says it “already received a ton of great feedback and RSVPs.”

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

Posted by: Pablo Aguilar AT 01:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, September 18 2012

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. officials took the first step Thursday toward approving a plan that would lend private insurers up to $350 million in surplus funds to take over some of its policies, but the plan is already receiving some pushback from critics of the state-run company.

Members of Citizens’ depopulation committee approved the plan in principle, but some members expressed concerns about the details of contracts with private companies.

“If we give up only the most desirable policies ... how are we impacting our cash flows?” said Citizens chairman Carlos Lacasa. “To me depopulation needs to be a balanced deal where some of the good policies go out, but some of the bad policies go out as well.”

Under the program, Citizens would provide loans to companies that meet financial requirements, with the size of the loan contingent on the amount of risk they take on. The risk would be determined by the amount of premium paid into the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund for each policy. Citizens staff members said tying the loans to the Cat Fund calculation would entice companies to take on more risk and prevent “cherry picking” safer, more inland policies. The loan would be paid off over 20 years.

The state-run company is the largest property insurer in the state with 1.4 million policies, and Gov. Rick Scott and some fellow Republican lawmakers have urged Citizens’ board members to find ways to reduce its policy count, thereby reducing its exposure and the potential for assessments on non-Citizens customers after a large hurricane or series of storms.

Other lawmakers, including some Republicans, have fought against those efforts inside the Legislature and out, defeating a bill this year that would have allowed out-of-state companies to take over Citizens policies. They also criticized measures that have reduced coverage of secondary structures and imposed a rigorous inspection program on wind mitigation credits that usually have resulted in a reduction in credit and an increase in premium.

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, continued that fight Thursday, reading a letter to the committee that will be sent Friday, admonishing them for planning to loan out funds from their surplus and using a “rushed” process to do so. He also questioned whether Citizens has statutory authority to lend money.

“Who gave the authority to Citizens to use that financial matrix? Isn’t that the job of (the Office of Insurance Regulation) and the Legislature?” Artiles said. “The issue is that it was not businesslike and it was not vetted properly.”

As the committee discussed the new depopulation program, the Office of Insurance Regulation announced that the old depopulation program, which does not have monetary incentives for private companies, was finally meeting with some success after a period of tepid results.

Four private companies - Florida Peninsula Insurance Co., Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Co., Southern Fidelity Property and Casualty and Southern Oak Insurance Co. -- will take over 150,000 Citizens policies starting Nov. 6. OIR also stated that four other companies were prepared to take out more than 181,000 policies should Citizens approve the surplus note loan program.

But even after the full Citizens board votes Friday to move forward with the program, the final details would have to be hammered out and be voted upon before its next scheduled meeting in December. Lacasa is particularly concerned about the 2 percent variable rate interest that Citizens would charge. However, he agrees with the plan in principle as a means to reduce the gap in Citizens’ rates, which are held artificially low in high-risk areas because of a cap on rate increases set by the Legislature, and the rates private companies charge.

“I have no problem supporting a plan that makes up for that rate gap with our own surplus because at the end of the day, all of our other losses ... will be covered by their capital, not ours. I think that’s a fair deal," Lacasa said. "The devil’s in the details. How do you document it? How do you oversee it? How do you enforce it?”

Posted by: Pablo Aguilar AT 03:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, September 18 2012
TEQUESTA, Fla. – Sept. 12, 2012 – A Tequesta homeowner who said her insurance premium nearly doubled after a reinspection for storm-resistant credits filed suit in federal court against Mueller Services, a contractor working for Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

The suit marks at least the second seeking class-action status in connection with the massive reinspection program, which affects more than 250,000 customers of Florida’s last-resort insurer. Citizens is Florida’s largest property insurer with 1.4 million customers including 140,000 in Palm Beach County.

Stephanie Ritchie said a 2011 inspection that was supposed to be good for five years granted her credits for features that hardened her home against hurricanes, such as shutters and a qualifying roof configuration.

But after an inspector sent by Mueller Services visited as part of the Citizens reinspection program in May of this year, her annual premium went up almost $1,800, nearly doubling, she said. She made no changes to the home and believes she fully qualifies for the credits she was denied.

“I was very angry,” Ritchie said. “Nothing changed. We didn’t do anything.”

The suit, filed in federal court, asks for more than $5 million on behalf of thousands of other customers affected. The suit alleges Mueller engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices and “withheld payments to inspectors” until they found homeowners were not entitled to credits.

A Mueller employee said the company could not talk to the media under terms of its agreement with Citizens.

“We are not a party to this suit,” Citizens spokeswoman Christine Ashburn said. “As Mueller is the named defendant, we do not know at this time if they have been served.”

Citizens denies allegations the reinspection program was a “subterfuge” to raise premiums in another lawsuit filed earlier this year by customers in Palm Beach and Broward counties. That suit names Citizens as a defendant.

Company officials have maintained they and contractors removed credits mistakenly granted in the past or no longer good as the state has periodically revised rules about what features qualify.

Mueller Services was founded in 1980 in Buffalo, N.Y. and today employs more than 1,100, according to its website.

Mueller overruled the independent judgment of inspectors in 34.5 percent of cases, a higher percentage than other Citizens contractors including Inspection Depot Inc. (16.5 percent) and Quality Built LLC (19.5 percent), an analysis of more 225,000 inspections by The Palm Beach Post found Sept. 2. In all, Citizens and its contractors rejected more than 90,000 reports by inspectors.

Overall, the inspection program has raised bills for 74 percent of homeowners visited, increasing premiums by $155 million a year. Citizens has cleared more than $116 million after paying inspectors.

“What’s fundamentally wrong is she had one inspection done a year ago that found no deficiencies,” said plaintiff attorney Brian Smith of Smith & Vanture in West Palm Beach. “It was good for five years. Without any changes, a reinspection is ordered that finds deficiencies that were not there – and are not there now.”

Copyright © 2012 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Charles Elmore. Distributed by MCT Information Services.
Posted by: Pablo Aguilar AT 10:56 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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