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Citizens Insurance touts policies leaving

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TALLAHASSEE - Private insurers pulled more than 275,000 policies last year from the state's Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and have taken nearly 115,000 this year, with Citizens President and CEO Tim Cerio saying Wednesday he thinks "we're coming through to the other side" after years of troubles in the market.

Citizens, which was created as an insurer of last resort, ballooned during the past few years to become the largest insurer in the state as private carriers dropped customers and raised rates because of financial troubles.

But after the Legislature approved a series of changes to try to bolster the market, private insurers took 275,324 Citizens policies in 2023 through what is known as a "depopulation" program. By comparison, private carriers took 16,408 policies in 2022, 2,814 policies in 2021 and 7,463 policies in 2020, according to data presented Wednesday during a meeting of the Citizens Board of Governors.

State leaders have long sought to minimize the number of policies in Citizens, at least in part because of financial risks if the state gets hit by a major hurricane or multiple hurricanes.

"We think the market's going to continue to recover, capital's going to continue to flow into the Florida market," Cerio told the Board of Governors. "So we're pretty optimistic. We (Citizens) have a lot of good policies. The market is interested in our business. And, again, that's a sign that the market's getting healthier."

Citizens reached as many as 1.412 million policies in fall 2023 before seeing reductions because of the depopulation program. Nevertheless, Citizens remains the state's largest insurer, with about 1.172 million policies as of Friday.

It also sees regular weekly increases in policy counts, which partially offset large batches of policies that exit through depopulation. For example, the 1.172 million total Friday was up from 1.167 million policies a week earlier and 1.162 million policies two weeks earlier.

Under depopulation, private insurers seek approval from regulators to assume certain numbers of Citizens policies. The large numbers of policies that have flowed into Citizens in recent years have created a situation in which private insurers can look for policies that they consider good risks.

In 2023, Slide Insurance Co. assumed the most Citizens policies, with 82,781, according to Citizens data. Slide was followed by Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Co., which took 53,456 policies; SafePoint Insurance Co., which took 41,895; and Florida Peninsula Insurance Co., which took 37,586.

Citizens said 114,559 policies have been assumed by private insurers this year.

While the depopulation program has resulted in many homeowners getting private coverage, it doesn't necessarily mean they will see lower insurance rates - and could face paying more.

Trying to spur depopulation, lawmakers in 2022 approved a change that required Citizens customers to accept offers of coverage from private insurers if the offers are within 20 percent of the cost of Citizens premiums.

For example, if a homeowner received an offer of coverage from a private insurer that is 19 percent higher than the Citizens premium, the homeowner would have to accept it. If the offer was over 20 percent of the Citizens premium, the homeowner would not have to take it.

Also, people who remain in Citizens should not expect to see reduced rates as the market improves, officials say. That is because Citizens has long argued that a state cap on how much it can increase premiums each year has led to rates that are not actuarially sound.

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