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Citizens says clearinghouse works, agents note early options limited

By Charles Elmore - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer



A new computer clearninghouse launched Monday to steer insurance customers out of state-run Citizens and into private insurers seems to be functioning properly, officials said, and agents reminded consumers it contains only four private carriers so shop around.

Citizens officials said they processed 500 requests for information by noon Monday, though the early going includes tests that are not necessarily transactions affecting real customers.

The launch comes in a rocky few months for government websites, with the federal healthcare.gov and the state’s unemployment website having more than a few well-publicized problems.

The clearinghouse debut was delayed from Jan. 2 to Monday so participating insurers could get better prepared technologically, officials said. The number of carriers initially taking part has gone from from four to an expected seven back to four.

“The clearinghouse is functioning successfully, and we are pleased with the preliminary results,” said Steve Bitar, Citizens vice president of consumer and agent services. “We are continuing to monitor clearinghouse activity and expect to have more detailed information available at the Board of Governors meeting Wednesday. The initial response has been very positive.”

The system is designed to shrink Citizens by making would-be customers ineligible for the state-run company’s coverage if a private insurer is offering coverage priced up to 15 percent more. During the second quarter of the year, renewing Citizens customers will not be able to stay with the company if a private insurer is offering coverage priced the same or less.

Brightway Insurance agent Bill Goldman of Jupiter noted the clearinghouse does not necessarily represent all the options a consumer may have, so homeowners may want to shop around on their own.

“If you’re put through Citizens’ clearinghouse, you’ll get quotes from just a small subset of companies in the state,” Goldman said.

Those participating initially include Ark Royal, Florida Peninsula, Safe Harbor and United Property & Casualty, Citizens said.

Up to 16 more carriers are expected to join the clearinghouse in March through July, including Heritage Property and Casualty of St. Petersburg. That’s the start-up company that contributed $110,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work committee last year shortly before winning a controversial contract that paid it up to $52 million to take Citizens customers in a transfer program. Most carriers did not get special payments but Heritage netted more than $30 million on that deal, officials said.

Under traditional transfer offers, customers can choose to stay with Citizens, but they will have not have that choice if the clearinghouse rules them ineligible. That’s one reason it’s important the clearinghouse works accurately. At least 14,000 transfer letters from a private insurer, First Community, contained erroneously high Citizens renewal premiums this month, The Palm Beach Post reported.

Citizens has more than 1 million customers including more than 100,000 in Palm Beach County, meaning it remains the biggest insurer locally and statewide.

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