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Aug. 27--BY JAMES L. ROSICA
TALLAHASSEE -- Seven out of 10 customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Floirda's insurer of last resort, could see their bills go down if the state approves new rates discussed Wednesday.
State insurance regulators met in the Capitol to hear Citizens executives explain the proposed rates. Any rate change has to be approved by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.
"Most (customers) will see lower rates ... and hopefully that trend will continue," said Citizens CEO Barry Gilway. But "it's not all a bowl of cherries," as chief risk officer John Rollins told regulators.
Rates for policyholders in coastal areas, which are hardest hit by storms, and for those who carry "wind-only" insurance are slated to go up, Rollins said.
Standard homeowners insurance customers in Hillsborough County are set to get a 8 percent reduction, taking the current average premium from $2,031 to $1,868, according to Citizens' presentation.
In Pasco County, that rate could decrease by nearly 6 percent, taking the average premium from $1,883 to $1,771. And in Pinellas County, the proposed rate decrease is almost 9 percent, from $2,119 to $1,932.
Collier County residents could realize a 9.4 percent decrease in homeowners insurance, from $3,073 to $2,783.
More than 1,600 homeowners in Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie counties could see decreases between 8 percent and 9 percent.
Some coastal Pinellas residents, however, who choose to get a type of wind-only insurance could see a rate hike of 4.7 percent, taking that average premium from $2,147 to $2,247.
Wind-only insurance for Collier County condominium dwellers would see an increase of 5 percent under the new rate, boosting that premium from $1,009 to $1,061.
Homeowners whose insurance companies won't cover them for hurricane damage often get wind-only insurance from Citizens, company spokesman Michael Peltier said.
Mobile homeowners also could take a hit, with overall proposed rate increases at 8.2 percent for wind-only coverage. The rate for wind-only for commercial properties is proposed to go up 10 percent.
Most customers are seeing rate relief partly because of the cheaper cost of reinsurance that Citizens uses to safeguard itself during hurricane season. Reinsurance is a kind of insurance for insurers.
Citizens, a government-created nonprofit, came into existence after millions of Floridians couldn't get homeowners insurance following Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
In the years since, lawmakers have complained Citizens took on too much risk. At the same time, it was underpriced for the market, leaving it short on funds.
Gov. Rick Scott, among others, pushed Citizens to decrease its customer count and reduce the value of homes it can insure.
Citizens responded in part by creating a "clearinghouse," a website available only to agents, who work with customers to shop for comparable offers of coverage from participating private-market carriers.
A customer is ineligible for Citizens coverage if one of the private insurers charges premiums within 15 percent of Citizens rates. The company had more than 933,000 policies in force as of last month, records show.
The new rates, if approved, will go into effect Feb. 1 for new and renewal customers.
How to sound off
To see how the cost of your type of Citizens insurance will be changed by the new rates where you live, view a copy of the "2015 Recommended Rate Changes by County" at bit.ly/1tcpcUm.
Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put the word "Citizens" in the email's subject line. Any comments submitted, as well as the sender's email address, become an open record under Florida law. Comments will be accepted until Sept. 4.
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