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Watch WPTV's 'Coverage Collapse' special on Florida's home insurance crisis

WPTV's Matt Sczesny speaks with state leaders in search of solutions
Posted at 12:09 AM, Mar 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-11 22:51:07-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — WPTV's Matt Sczesny sat down with elected leaders Monday night to talk about Florida's home insurance crisis.

They discussed what was done in this legislative session to help homeowners, what didn't happen and where the crisis goes from here.

The panelists were state Rep. Jervonte Edmonds, D-West Palm Beach, state Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, and Lee Wiglesworth, president of the Wiglesworth-Rindom Insurance Agency in Stuart.

Among the topics discussed were funding for the My Florida Safe Home program; the outlook on Citizens Property Insurance, the state's insurer of last resort; Citizens takeout offers; and a radical proposal to model Florida's insurance industry after California.

"We thought that was important to fully fund it," Caruso said of the My Florida Safe Home program.

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But Berman said the state didn't do enough to help homeowners.

"The problem is, we did a few things, but your insurance bill isn't going to be any lower right now," Berman said.

Edmonds said he drafted two bills to provide some short-term relief for homeowners to pay their mortgages and insurance premiums, but they never went anywhere.

"We just passed a $117 billion budget, so we're not short of money," he said.

Berman said if she were to grade the Florida Legislature, she would give them a "C."

"There are other ideas that are out there that we should be taking advantage of," Berman said.

Caruso's self-critique of the latest legislative session was an "A-."

"I think there's more to be done, and I think, as the senator said, we've got to start thinking outside the box," Caruso said.

Edmonds echoed those sentiments, saying there were "great solutions offered from both sides of the aisle."

"They just have to be heard and accepted," Edmonds said.

One such idea was a radical proposal from state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers. His "solution" is to do what California did 28 years ago by creating a special state insurance plan that, in Florida, would have Citizens cover all wind claims.

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"I commend Rep. Roach for his ideas, thinking outside the box, but I don't think it's time to California our Florida at this point," Caruso said. "You know, Florida's debt-free. California is all about debt."

Berman, however, said it's something that should be considered.

"I'd like to see us spend some time really researching it," she said. "Would it cause rates to drop? How much of a risk would we be taking? And that's a big problem. You know, Citizens is us. So how much of a risk are we taking?"

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a recent CNBC interview that Citizens is "not solvent," raising concerns about whether the state insurer has enough money in the event of a natural disaster like a hurricane.

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Wiglesworth seemed to agree.

"Citizens has ballooned to the point that the way it's set up now, it's not sustainable," he said.

Edmonds said the state must "find innovative ways to increase the finance for Citizens." He mentioned a proposal for increasing the coverage cap from $700,000.

"And I think that's a great idea," Edmonds said.

Citizens CEO Tim Cerio has said he would like to reduce the number of policyholders, which is why having a healthy private marketplace is necessary.

Cerio said there is a cap that no offer now can exceed 40% of Citizens rates. If the offer is within 20% of the Citizens premiums, those customers will continue to be moved out of Citizens.

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One legislative action that still requires the governor's signature prohibits Citizens from insuring customers with a second home in Florida if a surplus line insurer is available.

Wiglesworth said surplus line insurers — so-called takeout policies — are "not part of the admitted market."

"They're not regulated at the same capacity," Wiglesworth said. "So most of the companies are bigger, global carriers, so it's not that much of a worry. But they can increase your rates drastically. They can drop coverages. They have different rules."