By Michael Mayo, Sun-Sentinel
Having problems with the confusing "opt-out" process if your Citizens homeowners policy has been selected for a takeover by a new insurance company? Have you gotten the runaround from the new company, or did you not get properly notified to begin with?
State insurance consumer advocate Robin Westcott said Citizens customers who have problems or concerns with the takeout process should call the Department of Financial Service's consumer hotline at 1-877-693-5236, or call her office directly at 850-413-5923.
And let me know your situation, and how the state responded, by calling 954-356-4508 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wrote my Sunday print column about the "takeout/takeover" process by some new companies currently underway.
St. Petersburg-based Heritage Property and Casualty (which launched late last year) and Coral Gables-based Weston Insurance (ditto) are taking over tens of thousands of Citizens policies across South Florida, and I've heard from several readers about problems with notification or the process of "opting out" of the new companies.
Here's how it's supposed to work: Thirty days before the takeover (or 15 days, for commercial policies), the new company is supposed to notify you of their intent to take over the Citizens policy. That notice is supposed to contain an "opt-out" form for those who choose to stay with Citizens. Those who don't respond with an opt-out automatically get switched.
Citizens is supposed to follow up with a notice about the takeover, but the notices from Citizens don't contain opt-out forms.
Policyholders have until 30 days after the switch to opt out and return to Citizens.
Customers must send the opt-out forms to the new companies (by mail, fax or email), and they're supposed to inform Citizens. But it's best to follow up with everyone (your agent, Citizens, the new company) to make sure your opt-out intentions have been received and processed.
I heard from several readers who said they never got initial takeout notices, and then the onus was on them to find and print opt-out forms from a state web site (which is very confusing).
I also heard from one reader who said she was having problems with the fax line and email address provided by Heritage to opt out.
This is a little disconcerting, since the new company has a financial incentive to get as many new customers as possible. And yet they're the ones who are supposed to be handling and notifying Citizens of opt-outs.
Makes you wonder if they'll deliberately ignore opt-out requests, or find creative ways to make sure opt-outs fall through the cracks and trapdoors (like with malfunctioning fax machines).
Again, your best bet is to get in touch with your agent directly and inform him of your intentions.
Weston Insurance says roughly 14 percent of customers offered takeovers are opting out.
It seems nobody is adequately monitoring the situation to make sure there's nothing hinky going on. State insurance consumer advocate Robin Westcott said she was "concerned" to hear about some of the notification and logistics problems I relayed from takeout consumers.