TALLAHASSEE — The 30-day clock has begun for 160,683 property insurance policyholders to decide whether they want to remain with new private carriers or return to the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
The number of policies shifted out of Citizens is far fewer than anticipated when what is known as a "depopulation" effort began this summer. Still, the depopulation effort is moving Citizens closer to dropping below the 1 million customer mark for the first time since mid 2006.
"We're moving in the right direction, heading back to that carrier of last resort," Christine Ashburn, Citizens' director of legislative and external affairs, told members of the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee on Tuesday. "We're really starting to head back to that pre '04, '05 Citizens."
Citizens had 1.22 million policies as of Sept. 30.
The agency expects another 70,000 policies to be shifted to private carriers in December. Also, the state Office of Insurance Regulation in January could approve about 100,000 more policies for further takeout, Ashburn said.
The goal of the depopulation effort, as well as a legislatively approved insurance clearinghouse, is to direct what are expected to be many of the least-risky policies into the private market and to restore for Citizens the status of insurer of last resort. Ashburn said an ideal number of policies for Citizens is around 727,000.
"That would really put us back to older homes, lower value homes, the markets that are more the niche market, mobile homes in Florida," she said.
Still, the effort is going a little slower than anticipated.
The November takeout total of 160,683 policies is far below the 390,897 that had been approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation in August.
The private companies made 328,343 requests for policies, but many requests were for the same policies. A computer algorithm divided up the overlapping policies among the companies, which lowered the number of policies that faced a shift to 205,736.
The companies picking up the most accounts are Heritage Property & Casualty and Homeowners Choice. Both had been approved for up to 50,000 policies. Heritage received 35,737 policies, while Homeowners Choice got 34,872.
Other insurance companies involved in the takeout include Florida Peninsula, Southern Fidelity, Southern Oak, Tower Hill Preferred, Town Hill Prime, Town Hill Signature, United Property & Casualty and Weston.
For those impacted in the current round, customers have 30 days following their policies being acquired to decide if they want to stay with the private carrier or return to Citizens.
Those shifted won't see a change in rates through the term of the current policy, Ashburn said.
Nearly 45,000 homeowners have opted out of the takeout in the past month.