If the state Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) accepts recommendations from the Citizens’ Insurance board, wind insurance premiums will increase by 8.2% for Keys residential customers. Condo homeowners will see their rates go up by 9.4%. (Those are average rates, as each home’s risk is calculated individually.)
If the OIR accepts the recommendations, residential policyholders in Monroe County will have the highest rate hike in the state — 7,219 policies will go up in price, while only 162 policies will be less expensive. The next biggest rate hikes are for Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties with a percentage change of 7.9%. The average premium price for Monroe County residents, if adopted, would be $3,842 — about $400 higher than this year.
And that’s the good news.
Recently, Citizens has been under pressure to ensure its policies are on par with prices charged by private insurance companies. That was the intent of establishing the state-run, quasi-public insurance company — that it be an insurer of last resort for markets like the Keys, where private insurers are reluctant to do business. But recently, Citizens’ rates have been far below the private market because of a state-imposed 10% cap on annual premium increases, making Citizens an attractive alternative for homeowners, condo owners and owners of commercial properties. While a few years ago Citizens’ had 400,000 policies in Florida, there are now close to 600,000.
So the Citizens’ insurance board and the OIR are under pressure to abandon the 10% glide path cap on insurance premiums and adopt prices that are actuarially sound. That calls for a 25.9% statewide increase for personal policies and a whopping 84.3% increase for commercial policies. The board voted 7-2 to recommend that new policyholders pay actuarially sound rates instead of benefiting from the same capped premiums that existing Citizens policyholders receive. If approved by the OIR, the recommendation would increase rates for new businesses by an average of 21%.
“We’ve held the rates for a year or so, and longer for Monroe County,” said Bette Brown, the only Citizens’ insurance board member who lives in the Keys. Brown made a strong suggestion to the board that the Keys be exempt if the state legislature remove the 10% cap on how much policy premiums can increase in one year. The Citizens’ board voted 6-3 to maintain the caps for new business in Monroe County at 10% over the rate charged to renewing policyholders.
The OIR will make the final determination on the rate that goes into effect on Aug. 1, 2021.
“Monroe County is so unique, and things that happen here eventually become big issues in the rest of the state like affordable housing. It starts in the Keys because we are a microcosm,” Brown said.
The most recent report from Citizens to the state revealed one other startling figure: Citizens’ largest operational cost — about 52% — is spent on litigation and costs associated with “nonweather” water claims in “assignment of benefits” cases. That’s when an attorney persuades a homeowner to allow the firm to sue an insurance company for water leaks that aren’t caused by hurricanes.
“This type of case started popping up three or four years ago, mainly in Miami-Dade County,” said Brown, adding that this type of case hasn’t proliferated in the Keys. “The attorneys sue insurance companies to make these fixes. Some are fraudulent and some are not, but the attorneys are making money on it.”
Brown said she’s proud that Citizens led the charge on identifying these claims and reducing the frequency of the lawsuits.
“Now it’s slowing down,” she said.