Hurricane Irma’s claims in Florida are still climbing to nearly $10 billion and nearly 10 percent are not closed, but the 2018 hurricane season barged right in anyway. It could not even wait until its official start date of June 1 to generate a named storm, Alberto.
While the season’s ultimate severity remains to be seen, September’s Irma has already left its mark on the state’s insurance market, home to the nation’s highest premiums.
Florida insurers did not renew at least 167,000 policies in the six months after the storm, state records show. By the start of April, half of the state’s top 20 insurers had fewer policies than they did a year earlier, whether because of planned efforts to trim financial risk or customer decisions to seek other options in the wake of rate hikes or claims tussles.
That leaves a lot of consumers hunting for information to help sort out their choices. Help is available now in the Palm Beach Post Insurance Explorer. The updated online guide offers multiple financial-strength ratings and complaint information analyzed by the newspaper for more than 100 property insurers serving Florida.
The information is useful across the state, said Apopka insurance agency owner Dexter Chase.
“I use the Explorer all the time and refer my clients there so they don’t have to take my word for it when reviewing a company,” Chase said. “More agents should refer to it. It’s a great tool.”
Market changes tend to get even more intense towards the state’s southern end. Eight of the top 10 insurers in Palm Beach County, for example, carried fewer policies March 31 than they did a year earlier.
It’s happening in a state where big national companies have largely pulled back and smaller, homegrown insurers have stepped in. That means consumers have to assess companies that are not always familiar brand names.
Florida’s “domestic” insurers have the financial resources they need to do the job, said William Stander, executive director of the Florida Property & Casualty Association.
“We’re prepared to face the coming season from a strong position,” Stander said.
It’s true some companies have become “more aware of their risk concentration,” affecting how many policies they may consider prudent to keep in particular parts of the state, he said. But more than 90 percent of Irma claims have been closed, he said, and “the market is still healthier than it was after the 2004 and 2005 seasons” when multiple storms came Florida’s way.
Yet hurricanes are not the only issue, insurers say.
Florida’s second largest insurer, state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., decided Wednesday to delay a proposed 8 percent rate increase in what chairman Chris Gardner called a “consumer-friendly action” following “the devastation brought on by Irma.”
Citizens officials went on to highlight not just Irma but “the impact of skyrocketing non-weather-related water loss claims in South Florida.” That refers to plumbing leaks, roof problems and other claims not directly tied to storms. Citizens and other insurers say the costs of such claims are increasingly inflated by lawsuits and assignment of insurance benefits to contractors, public adjusters and attorneys, who in turn frequently accuse insurers of unfairly denying or underpaying claims.
Citizens put off until December consideration of a plan to raise the average cost of its standard HO3 homeowner’s policy to about $2,800 statewide in 2019. The projected increase, subject to approval by state regulators, would push the average annual policy cost to more than $3,000 in Palm Beach County and nearly $4,000 in Monroe County. One option is to make the increases effective May 1, 2019.
Unfortunately, the 2018 hurricane season agreed to no such “consumer-friendly” delay.
That’s why consumers need all the information they can get, said Gavin Magor, director of research at Weiss Ratings in Palm Beach Gardens.
“Many Florida homeowners are still waiting for their insurance claims to come through after a severe hurricane season last year,” Magor said. “If the 2018 hurricane season is similar or worse, it could compound the problem, raising questions about the ability of weaker insurers to promptly cover major damages.”
Help is a click away
Florida’s market is full of insurance companies we’ve never heard of, readers said. Help! The Palm Beach Post listened. Check out our biggest online guide yet. See multiple financial ratings for more than 100 companies — along with complaint information the newspaper obtained in public records requests and analyzed.