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Private homeowners insurance firms get OK to take up to 202,000 Citizens policies

TALLAHASSEE — As efforts continued to sort out damage from Hurricane Idalia, regulators on Friday approved proposals by seven private insurers to pull as many as 202,000 policies from the state’s Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworksy signed orders approving the proposals by Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Co., Slide Insurance Co., Florida Peninsula Insurance Co., Monarch National Insurance Co., Safepoint Insurance Co., Loggerhead Reciprocal Interinsurance Exchange and Edison Insurance Co.

The proposals were filed in late July, and the companies will be able to start assuming policies from Citizens about Nov. 21.

The approvals came as state leaders have long sought to move policies out of Citizens into the private market, at least in part because of financial risks if Florida gets hit by a major hurricane or multiple hurricanes.

Policies have poured into Citizens during the past three years as private insurers have dropped customers and raised rates because of financial troubles. As of Friday, Citizens had nearly 1.38 million policies — making it Florida’s largest property insurer. Citizens was created as an insurer of last resort but has become the go-to insurer for many homeowners.

The orders Friday do not mean that the seven insurers will take the full numbers of approved policies from Citizens. Homeowners Choice was approved to assume up to 75,000 policies; Slide was approved to take up to 50,000; Florida Peninsula was approved to assume up to 30,000; Monarch National was approved to assume up to 20,399; Safepoint was approved to assume up to 16,000; Loggerhead was approved to assume up to 6,000; and Edison was approved to assume up to 5,000.

The insurers will effectively be able to choose which policies they want, a process Citizens Board of Governors Chairman Carlos Beruff recently likened to “cherry picking.”

Also, homeowners targeted for what is known as “takeout” could be forced to pay more for coverage.

In many cases, homeowners can buy less expensive coverage from Citizens than from private insurers. But a change approved in December by lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis requires Citizens customers to accept offers of coverage from private insurers if the offers are within 20% of the cost of Citizens premiums.

That change was part of a wide-ranging package aimed at bolstering the insurance market. The willingness of insurers to take policies from Citizens could be a sign that the package, which also included such things as trying to limit lawsuits against carriers, has helped make the market more attractive to the industry.

In late July, Yaworsky approved proposals that could lead to private insurers pulling as many as 184,000 policies from Citizens starting in October. Those insurers were Slide, Safepoint, Southern Oak Insurance Co., Florida Peninsula and Monarch.

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Also, Monarch assumed 17,239 policies in June, while Slide and Loggerhead received approval to take as many as 26,000 policies in August.

While last year’s Hurricane Ian caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, Hurricane Idalia appears likely to have far less of an impact on the insurance industry. Idalia made landfall Wednesday in Taylor County and continued on a path through other rural areas.

“The Big Bend area where it made landfall is more sparsely populated and has some of the lowest insured values in the state, which makes losses unlikely to match those of Hurricane Ian last year,” the AM Best financial-rating agency said in a commentary Friday. “Idalia’s fierce winds, torrential rains and the resulting storm surge battered Florida’s Gulf Coast before continuing onto Georgia and South Carolina, causing significant property damage that will result in sizable losses for the insurance industry.”

The BMS reinsurance firm last week estimated Idalia caused $3 billion to $5 billion in insured losses.

“In reality, the insurance industry dodged a bullet as Idalia tracked over relatively rural areas with low population density,” an analysis posted on the BMS website said.

The analysis did not break down potential insured losses in Florida and other states.

As of Sunday, insurers had reported $85 million in estimated insured losses, according to data posted on the Office of Insurance Regulation website. That total included data from 10,561 claims, including 7,515 residential property claims. Other types of claims included such things as auto damage.

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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