"For the consumer, there really isn't enough information," said Robin Smith
Westcott, the state's consumer insurance advocate.
Her office is working to collect more comprehensive information on the five
companies currently hoping to take over Citizens policies. Westcott hopes to
create a website within in the next couple of weeks - before the Nov. 6 deadline
for policyholders to move to a private insurer.
In the meantime, she recommended that at the very least consumers Google the
companies' name to see what existing customers have to say about the insurers.
Citizens could lose some 300,000 policies this year -- or a fifth of its
portfolio -- after Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state-backed insurer of last
resort to cut its risk. That figure would exceed the total number of policies
removed in the past three years combined.
By state law, affected Citizens customers will be notified whether their
policies have been selected for removal. Policyholders have 30 days to decline
and stay with Citizens. If customers don't respond, their policies will be
assumed by the private companies.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the letters that Citizens
policyholders receive from private insurers don't give enough meaningful
information. He agrees with Westcott, saying there needs to be more transparency
for consumers to make better decisions.
"She's right on target making sure that happens," Fasano said.
Already this year, 84,339 policyholders statewide have switched from Citizens to
The companies scheduled to take over thousands of policies this fall include
Boca Raton-based Florida Peninsula Co., one of the state's 10 largest home
insurers. This month, Citizens approved a $350 million plan that would give
low-interest loans to encourage private insurers to take even more policies out
The state's Office of Insurance Regulation has vetted the five companies but
only to ensure they are financially solvent and can handle the extra customers,
spokeswoman Amy Bogner said in an e-mail. Homeowners can find that information
But in past years some insurers declared financially sound still went out of
business, said Jay Neal, executive director of the nonprofit Florida Association
for Insurance Reform.
Consumers should look to see how long the company has been in business and check
on its financial history, Neal said. They should also press their insurance
agents to research the companies proposing to take over the policies.
Some companies taking over Citizens policies have actually lowered premiums,
Neal said. But Sean Shaw, president of Policyholders of Florida, an advocacy
group, has said that policyholders complained of rate increases after the first
"Most people are only interested in whether their premiums are going up," Shaw
said Tuesday. "But there are other things that are just as important, like the
ability of a company to pay a claim and how long it takes."
Citizens customers face steep assessments if the state-backed insurer does not
have enough money to pay claims after a major storm. So policyholders who have
the chance to switch may be better off in the private market, Neal and others
The four other insurers - Homeowners Choice P&C Insurance Co., Southern Fidelity
P&C, Southern Oak Insurance Co. and American Integrity Insurance Co. of Florida
- all are based in Florida and have been licensed in the state since at least
2004.For the information provided by the Office of Insurance Regulation about each
company go to http://www.floir.com/Sections/PandC/TakeoutCompanies.aspx