Apparently, there’s still some chance to block Citizens Insurance company’s $350M part-loan part-giveaway program that involves a subsidy plan to use my premiums to pay private insurers to take over its policies. On the other hand powerful figures in the state GOP are lining up to support gifts to their friends.
My experience suggests the program isn’t necessary: although the program is not operating yet I’ve gotten my first letter of the post-hurricane season from a new, small, (fly-by-night?) insurance company called Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty (HCI) that has got me on its menu as “Take Out”.
“Take-out” is how Citizens refers to the policies cherry-picked by private insurance companies. And perhaps because I live relatively far from water and thus face less flood risk, I’m the cherry.
These letters follow a form. They have threats about how awful Citizens will be, threats founded in fact if skewed to the worst case. They are opt-out only: do nothing and I will be transferred to the new company about which I know nothing.
When I got the letter, HCI didn’t even disclose the terms of the policy they are offering me. Although the letter contains vague language about covering “other structures,” like gazebos, that I don’t happen to have, and mentions some “coverage options”, the real meat was supposed to be online. I was invited to go online to view financial info and see “a coverage comparison”. There is some financial information about HCI at Citizens’ “Take-out Companies” page, but when I visited last week, there was nothing about policy terms there. Checking back today, however, I find that there is now a summary coverage analysis document. Bottom line: very little difference — for now.
And of course there’s no reason to believe the premiums will be any less with any given company than with Citizens’: HCI is required to keep my policy for at least 10 years (unless they go broke first), provide “substantially the same coverage” as Citizens for the first three years, and limit rate increases to 10 percent per policy per year. Such comfort.
HCI’s homepage is not much use to me either. They tell me they are rated “A Exceptional” by Demotech, which is the rating agency for insurance companies too small to get a rating from AM Best. Looking at Demotech’s site, I find that “Exceptional” is only the third-best rating (everyone is waay above average here!), and means that according to some model (about which we are told nothing) Demotech thinks that 97% of the companies with this rating will be solvent 18 months from now. An A rating puts HCI in the top 70% of companies rated by Demotech. Yes, top 70%! (Not surprisingly, the Demotech ratings have been accused of being inflated.)
A little Internet searching tells me HCI just recently doubled in size by taking over policies from HomeWise, a failed insurance company. Was that before or after they got their rating?
Given that Governor Scott’s team, gripped by anti-government ideology, seeks to destroy Citizens Insurance by continually raising premiums and cutting coverage even though Citizens now has the $6+ billion reserves we always were told it would need to be solvent, I might actually be prepared to consider opting out some day despite my earlier reluctance. But I’d have to know what I was getting, and to have more confidence about the company I was going to than HCI has been willing or able to provide.
The track record so far for these insurance startups is sort of what I’d expect:
The granddaddy of onetime Citizens’ takeout companies, Poe Financial Group, was swamped with hurricane payouts and fell into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in August 2006 after storms caused more damage than it could cover. To pay for Poe, the state assessed everyone in Florida who buys homeowner or auto insurance. Lightning struck again with Magnolia Insurance, which was the biggest participant in a Citizens takeout program in 2009, the year before it went out of business. Another takeout firm, HomeWise Insurance Co., failed in 2011 and its policies were assumed by Tampa-based Homeowners Choice, which is the single-biggest takeout company participating in this round. Scott Wallace, the past president of Citizens Property Insurance, is now president of Homeowners Choice.
Looks like I’m opting out of this one too.
Update (10/11): Great article on some of the pros and cons of opting-out of Citizens from Tampa Bay Times. Where is the Miami Herald on all this? Fun fact: 30% of Citizens policy holders opted out last time letters went out — that’s a lot for an opt-out program. Citizens is cranking up the propaganda to reduce that number.