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Insurance Consumer Advocate

Sha'Ron James

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Mailing: 200 East Gaines St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0308

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Homeowners get answers about property insurance problems


By Marci Shatzman, Sun-Sentinel

A woman just moved here from Naples, and her property insurance quadrupled.

Why was her bill so full of fees and assessments?

What if you go with an insurance company that jacks up the premiums, goes belly up or doesn't pay claims?

Most people who came to one of the Property Insurance Workshops offered by State Sen. Maria Sachs had a problem and wanted answers from experts. Some even brought their policy and spoke to experts one-on-one at the workshop at the Downtown Library in Boca Raton Sept. 12. Other workshops were in Delray Beach and Pompano Beach.

The workshops took place because the state is in the process of notifying 400,000 but not all policyholders of the government's nonprofit Citizens Property Insurance Corp. that they will be receive a notice they can be canceled. Those policyholders would have to find other insurance carriers and buy policies in the open market, or stay with Citizens, according to the experts.

A clearinghouse will start Jan. 1 to help policy holders choose another insurance carrier that writes property insurance in Florida. The agency to run the clearinghouse has not been chosen, according to Trish Commander, assistant division director, Division of Consumer Services in Tallahassee.

The insurance climate has changed, even in the last two years and companies are much more solvent, the experts said. Legacy companies have left the state, mistakes were made and companies learned from them, said Jay Neal, president and CEO, Florida Association of Insurance Reform. "If you look at today's market…prices are more stable.

"The reality is the best consumer is an informed consumer and probably half will get better coverage," Neal said. "If you do nothing [when you receive a notice from Citizens] you will automatically go to a private company." The policy holder will have to act to say no.

After the series of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, "state government stepped in with an insurance company of last resort," Sachs said. "Government should not be in the business of insurance. We have private insurance carriers ready and willing to do our business."

Answering questions from the audience, assessments on bills reflect a single year, and emergency assessments for one or more years to cure deficits and retire indebtedness, said Robin Wescott, insurance consumer advocate.

In Florida there are three entities that can levy assessments due to residential property insurance claims. They are the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, Citizens and The Florida Insurance Guaranty Association.

"For planning, you can go on our website and plug in personal information and see what you're assessed," she said.

Paul Handerhan, president-elect of the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, said that office can answer questions about claims or the claims process via email at administrator@fapia.net or 866-235-6489.

Other links for help:

Property assessment calculator, Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate - myfloridacfo.com/AssessmentCalculator/Consumers/AssessmentCalculator.aspxConsumer Helpline, Division of Consumer Services, MyFloridaCFO.com/Division/Consumers or Consumer Helpline 877-693-5236Florida Association of Insurance Reform, floridainsurancereform.orgFlorida Office of Insurance Regulation, floir.com or 840-413-3140State Sen. Maria Sachs district office, 561-279-1427; facebook.com/Maria.Lorts.Sachs or Sachs.Maria@FLsenate.gov