Proposed bill could increase Citizens Insurance rates

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SARASOTA COUNTY - Citizens Insurance customers, get ready to shell out more money; lawmakers are considering another rate increase to the state-run insurance company.

The move is part of the highly controversial Insurance Reform Bill. The changes on the table would increase rates and cap coverage to $500,000. But that's just the beginning.

The bill is 18 pages long and it includes everything from renaming the disaster fund to cutting coverage. But even though services are being stripped from the polices, rates are still set to increase -- and many customers aren't liking it.

"It’s un-called for; why should we have a rate increase all the time and we don’t have any problems?” Citizens Insurance policy holder Carl Jones says he's fed up with all the increases he's had to pay to get property insurance, even though his home is far inland. "We've had raises, 3 or 4 raises in the past few years it seems, and I’m at least eight miles from the water."

Citizens provides coverage for high-risk areas that no other providers will insure, which means they have more than 1.3 million customers. 90,000 of them are right here in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

But lawmakers have been trying to cut that customer base by making them unattractive.

"They’re looking at several different options; the rate increase to help make Citizens rate actuarially sound," says insurance agent Florence Conlan.

That increase would go from the current 10% cap to a 13% cap of a homeowner’s property value. In addition, lawmakers are considering a clearing house option, where Citizens would send costumers to another company and cover a portion of the liability.

Conlan says supporters of the bill say it’s necessary to prepare for the disaster some say only happens once every 100 years. "Citizens now has more than 6 billion in reserves to pay out in the event of a catastrophe. The problem would be, however, is if they still were not able to pay claims out, the citizens of Florida would be assessed as much of 45% of the claims," says Conlan.

She says every resident of the state could be assessed that fee -- Citizens customer or not -- which some say is the driving force behind decreasing Citizens’ risk.

Both agents and homeowners say things are getting out of hand. "Insurance rates in general in Florida are increasing too much; not only with Citizens, but with admitted insurers as well," says Conlan.

"It’s ridiculous...the rates are too high the way it is now," says Jones.