|By Donna Gehrke-White, Sun Sentinel|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
The state is allowing four private insurance companies to select nearly 100,000 policies to take over from Citizens by fall. Property owners can opt out of the switch, but the process has created confusion among policyholders, according to insurance agents and consumer advocates.
"It's a disaster -- no one understands," said
Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Steve Burgess is concerned that some homeowners may not even open a letter from one of the state-approved companies.
"The question is: Do they read it?" he asked. If they don't, they might be switched to another company without knowing it, Burgess said.
Citizens, a government-created corporation, is still the state's largest property insurer with 933,422 policies, said
Some 119,434 Citizens policies have already been assumed by private insurers in the first seven months of this year.
On Friday, the
Companies participating in the latest round are
Tower Hill has been around since 1972, but none of the others have operated more than three years.
The four will send letters in the weeks ahead to policyholders they want to take over. The state insurance agency provides information about the private companies and their advantages over Citizens at its website, floir.com/Sections/PandC/TakeoutCompanies2.aspx, spokeswoman
Homeowners who want to stay with Citizens are required to send in an opt-out form, which is included in the letters. In previous cases, the letters often did not include information about rates.
Citizens will send a follow-up letter that explains the benefits of private-market coverage and reminds customers that they can stay with Citizens, spokesman
Ideally, Citizens would like to reduce its number of policies to 650,000 to 700,000, Peltier said. It's now down to 933,422 after reaching a peak of 1.4 million in
"That's our focus -- wind only [policies]," he said. "It a market segment that has been underserved."
"Weston writes risks at the same rates as Citizens," Lyons wrote in an email.
Regardless of which company sends a "take-out" letter, homeowners should carefully review the offering, said Vinson of Policyholders of
"They need to compare coverage to price," Vinson said.
Homeowners should consult with their insurance agent or attorney, she said.
"I will always be reluctant to be taken out by a carrier that has little or no experience weathering (no pun intended) a hurricane," she said in an email.
Still, some private companies offer better service and coverage than Citizens does, said
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