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Citizens Property Insurance Braced For Hurricane Season

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June 6, 2013:   In this handout infrared satellite image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showing the overshooting cloud tops (colored dark orange) associated with the most intense areas of convection, and threat for tornadoes, Tropical Storm Andrea, the first named storm of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, intensifies June 6, 2013 in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is expected to make landfall later today near Steinhatchee, Florida.  (Photo by: NOAA via Getty Images)

June 6, 2013: In this handout infrared satellite image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showing the overshooting cloud tops (colored dark orange) associated with the most intense areas of convection, and threat for tornadoes, Tropical Storm Andrea, the first named storm of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, intensifies June 6, 2013 in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is expected to make landfall later today near Steinhatchee, Florida. (Photo by: NOAA via Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Citizens Property Insurance enters the 2014 hurricane season believing its finances are on solid ground.

Of course, after a major storm makes landfall, all projections would start to shift like the state’s well-known sand.

As the six-month hurricane season starts Sunday, Citizens has a $7.3 billion surplus. Also, the state-backed insurer has completed a $1.5 billion, multi-year reinsurance bond deal, and the state’s backup catastrophe fund is at $13 billion.

Those figures should allow Citizens to withstand a 1-in-70-year storm event without having to use an “assessment” process to collect money from all vehicle- and property-insurance policyholders in Florida to cover additional hurricane costs.

An assessment of $2.3 billion would be expected from the impact of a 1-in-100-year storm event.

“We’re the best prepared for a hurricane since we were created in 2002,” Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said Thursday.

Advocates for consumers and the insurance industry tend to agree.

“I think Citizens has been very conscientious to make sure they have an infrastructure, that they have the ability to put adjusters out in the field after a (catastrophic) event,” said Jay Neal, director of the advocacy group Florida Association for Insurance Reform. “The (backup Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund ), according to our numbers, is capable of taking a first hit, and a second hit, and really not having to go to the bond market for more than one or two years to be able to pay the freight.”

Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, said the numbers for Citizens could be better if fraudulent water-loss claims were reduced in South Florida and the size of the state-backed insurer was further trimmed.

“Citizens is not nearly as big as it was,” Miller said. “But there is still a lot of exposure in Citizens that doesn’t need to be there.”

The fiscal improvement comes after Citizens shifted nearly a quarter of its policies into the private market during the past 12 months. Also, Citizens has enjoyed the luxury of not having a hurricane directly crash across Florida’s shorelines the past eight years.

The state was smacked by eight storms in 2004 and 2005, which depleted Citizens and the Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and drove some private firms from the market, which helped swell the number of policies in Citizens.

Reducing the number of policies, and thus the potential risk of assessments to all Florida policyholders, has been a priority for Citizens and state leaders in recent years.

They have started to achieve that goal by allowing private companies to acquire thousands of policies through bundled take-outs, and in rolling out a “clearinghouse” earlier this year that gives private firms the first look at new policies.

Through the clearinghouse, if coverage by a private firm is found within 15 percent of Citizens’ premium, a policy would go to the private carrier.

As of May 23, Citizens had 929,627 policies, with more than a third concentrated in six counties — Miami-Dade, Pinellas, Broward, Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Pasco.

The number is down from 1.26 million on May 31, 2013. A year earlier, the state-backed insurer topped 1.43 million policies.

To further keep the numbers down, the clearinghouse will be expanded Aug. 1 to include policies up for renewal.

This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.

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