Citizens Fields Questions from Fla. Homeowners, Agents at Forum

May 17, 2007

Irma Kelly is frustrated over the cost of her Citizens Property Insurance coverage, so she came to a policyholder’s forum to give the state-run insurer’s chairman an earful.

Kelly, a resident of a Broward County mobile home park, said she and her husband live on a fixed income and she is upset that her monthly payment with Citizens is about $400 more than the roughly $800 monthly premium she paid with a private insurer that gave her more coverage.

After assailing the insurance industry, lawyers and politicians for picking on “every single person,” she addressed the cost of her policy with Bruce Douglas, chairman of the state’s largest property insurer.

“Where do you want me to get (the money)?” she asked. “Well, I’ll drop dead so I don’t have to worry about paying insurance. You know what I’m saying? I’m sticking up for people.”

Douglas’ response: “I understand. So are we.”

Douglas fielded questions from several policyholders and insurance agents during what he called a first-of-its kind meeting to hear comments and present the latest changes to Citizens, which has about 1.3 million policyholders. Most of those policyholders are unable to get windstorm insurance from private carriers or had their policies dropped because of hurricane risk.

While Kelly and at least one other person expressed frustration with their insurance situation, most attendees who asked questions were concerned about specific aspects of their policies. Douglas asked for feedback at the end of the forum and was answered with a round of applause.

“The enemy is not Citizens,” Douglas said during the forum. “The enemy is the hurricanes.”

Douglas said Citizens had about $8.8 billion “in the bank” and about $2 billion in surplus to pay claims from any hurricanes this year. Citizens paid $5.2 billion in claims for the eight hurricanes to hit Florida in 2004 and 2005.

However, he said he did not want to speculate what would happen if a major storm hit a heavily populated area such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale. He estimated that the loss from a storm like that could be up to $20 billion for Citizens, and said he hoped that scenario would never play out.

Citizens also used the opportunity to describe some changes in the state-created insurer stemming from the regular and special legislative sessions this year. Among those changes were a rate freeze that will last until the end of 2008 and allowing residents to buy insurance from Citizens if private companies rates are 15 percent higher than what Citizens can offer for a comparable policy.

Also discussed was a decision to offer more coverage for small businesses, and the availability later this year of what Citizens calls multi-peril policies, which allow for fire and theft coverage to be included in one policy along with windstorm coverage. Citizens also said refunds from a rate rollback were being mailed out and should be completed in coming weeks.

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