Now, she wants out of Citizens.
“I called my mortgage people, I called my agent and said, ‘Take them off. I don’t want Citizens’,” said McCoy, one of more than 200,000 property owners who have lost discounts during Citizens’ massive and controversial reinspection effort.
McCoy lost her job as a telephone operator in 2008, and has only been able to find part-time work as a home health care aide, where she makes about $10 an hour. She is on the verge of falling behind on her mortgage, she said, and is not sure how she will come up with the extra money to pay for her upcoming policy renewal.
When she heard that private companies were sending letters to more than 200,000 policyholders with offers to take them out of Citizens, McCoy said she would gladly accept if given the chance.
“Citizens has us in a trap,” she said.
But in most cases, shifting to a private company will not lead to lower rates. Citizens is the only insurer in the state mandated by law to cap rates hikes at no more than about 10 percent annually. Despite seven hurricane-free years, private insurers have been raising rates faster than Citizens.
Homeowners who do receive a takeout letter will be automatically shifted to one of five private companies if they do not opt out by Nov. 6. The companies participating in the take out program — Citizens’ largest in many years — are: Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, Homeowners Choice P&C Insurance Company, Southern Fidelity P&C, Southern Oak Insurance Company and American Integrity Insurance Company of Florida.
Citizens originally requested a rate increase of 11.8 percent — the full 10 percent cap plus a little more for various fees and costs. In reviewing the request, OIR pointed out that the Citizens had been cherry picking the highest of three different estimates of annual losses, effectively maximizing the rate increase. OIR decided to use the middle estimate instead, and knocked the rate hike down to 10.8 percent.
Sinkhole rates continued to post the largest increases, despite a 2011 law passed specifically to address the runaway problem of massive losses on sinkhole claims.
Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott pointed out last month that the law, SB 408, has eliminated much of the need for continued rate hikes.
OIR disagreed, saying the jury was still out on how effective the law would be, and granted Citizens a double-digit rate increase.
“Due to the ambiguity caused by the filed claims data, the Office is unable to quantify how much SB 408 will reduce the frequency and severity of sinkhole claims,” McCarty, the Insurance Commissioner, wrote.
Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at tolorunnipa@MiamiHerald.com or on Twitter at @ToluseO.