Hurricanes in December
Christmas Day is next week, so why am I talking about hurricane season? Because we need to remember that we still live in a hurricane zone with ongoing insurance challenges, and June only six months away.
Florida hit a record this year with nine consecutive seasons without a hurricane making landfall. Just thinking about the odds of this record being broken makes my calm before the storm light go off. Will 2015 be the year the record is broken, and if it is, are we ready and more importantly are Citizens Property Insurance and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund ready?
Right now we’re all sitting pretty, Citizens has a surplus, The Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund is so well funded that assessments imposed on all insured businesses and residents to fill the fund are scheduled to end next year, and more private insurers are coming into the Florida market. But that could all change with just one Category 4 storm someplace in the state. For example, a big storm hitting Miami could do an estimated $125 billion in damage, more than double what insurance professionals have estimated. Because of the record breaking hurricane seasons we have been experiencing, it’s easy for everyone to get lulled into a false sense of security.
According to the Wall Street Journal, historical patterns point to a two-thirds chance of a hurricane making landfall in Florida in any given year. Southeastern Florida is more likely to suffer storm damage, with forecasters putting the odds of a hurricane in any year three times more than northeastern Florida. Residents in southeast Florida are also more likely to have Citizens Insurance.
Never-the-less in September the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation said the average Citizen’s homeowners’ rate will fall by 3 to 7 percent better than what Citizens had originally asked for, which means that 7 out of 10 policy holders statewide could see lower rates effective Feb. 1. Naturally, this is happening because of the absence of hefty hurricane claims since 2005, as well as lower premiums for reinsurance, which has become a sound investment in the financial markets, resulting in lower rates.
Citizens is still, however, actively attempting to reduce its number of policies through the takeout program which allows private companies that have been approved by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation to select insurance policies from Citizens. The private company sends a notice to policyholders informing them of the takeout offer. If policyholders wish to remain with Citizens, they return the opt-out form that is included with the takeout offer. If within 60 days policyholders do not return the opt-out form the policy transfers to the private company. In conjunction with this, Citizens sends the policyholder a letter encouraging them to consider the private offer.
In September, the Florida Insurance Commissioner approved allowing a dozen private insurers to assume more than 425,000 policies from the company. This has generated reports of policyholders not receiving full disclosure on what these policies could
cost at renewal and has prompted the state to review the takeout program in order to make it less confusing and more transparent. The changes are currently being worked on with Citizens and private companies to make sure the information is understandable so policyholders can make good decisions.
You may have put hurricane season in the back of your mind, but don’t let silver bells and mistletoe cloud your brain. Your insurance company’s brain is still working on hurricane season while you’re baking cookies and drinking eggnog, and June is just on the other side of Santa’s belly.