Insurers can't jettison policies
By Randy Diamond
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Thousands of policyholders who have been told their homeowners insurance is to be dropped over the next few months have been given a reprieve.
Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said Wednesday that he was interpreting the emergency order of the Cabinet, handed down last week, to include any scheduled non-renewals already in the pipeline.
American Strategic Insurance became the first homeowners insurer to announce last week a rate ...
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State officials, led by Gov. Charlie Crist, last week pushed through a moratorium on insurance company filings for rate increases and policy cancellations in the wake of new legislation.
The emergency rule was thought to stop changes through the end of hurricane season, but there were questions about what happened to policyholders who already had been notified they were to be dropped. Under the previous state law, notices were to be sent out at least 90 days ahead of the planned termination.
McCarty's interpretation clarifies that as of Jan. 31 insurers cannot deny renewals to policyholders. Policyholders already dropped will be entitled to a reinstatement.
Insurance industry representatives, still reeling over the developments of the past few weeks, expressed outrage Wednesday night that McCarty's interpretation was in effect broadening the ban.
"Companies that have planned in advance for months and followed the law are now being told they can't non-renew accounts," said William Stander, a lobbyist and regional vice president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
Stander said the recent interpretation leaves insurers in an even more precarious position. Some of the companies were overexposed and were using non-renewals as a way to improve solvency.
But a spokeswoman for Crist indicated nothing had changed. "The governor is pleased the people of Florida will be protected from cancellation or non-renewal as the emergency rule intended," Vivian Myretus said.
Tara Klimek, speaking on behalf of Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, said the new information simply clarifies how the emergency rule went into effect. "The way we read it is exactly how McCarty read it today," she said.
"From the moment that was passed, nobody could be canceled," Klimek said.
Ryan Priest, a spokesman for Allstate, said the company had not yet received a copy of McCarty's letter. Allstate began non-renewing 120,000 customers in November and those customers were being picked up by Royal Palm Insurance Co., a start-up carrier. Allstate had planned to drop 106,000 policies starting in April. Those also were to be picked up by Royal Palm.
It was unclear whether McCarty's interpretation would extend to the non-renewal of policies that had been picked up by another carrier.
The intent of the rate freeze and moratorium on non-renewals put in effect by the Cabinet was to prevent insurers from filing for increases that could take effect before the Office of Insurance Regulation could make changes based on the recently passed legislation.
The office needs time to set new factors to determine how much rates will have to come down based on the bill passed during the special session. That bill has been signed into law but is still in the early stages of being put in place.
Once the office has set new parameters, insurers will be able to drop policies, with proper notice. That could happen as soon as April, but insurers would have to issue a new notice of non-renewal. Under the new law, notice must be provided 100 days in advance, an increase from 90. No non-renewal notices can be sent during the hurricane season, which starts June 1.
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