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Jac Wilder VerSteeg: Gov. Rick Scott's veto hinders effort to woo homeowners away from Citizens

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday vetoed a law – House Bill 1087 – that would have created protections for Florida homeowners who have insurance from Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort.

Scott said he thought the bill would hinder efforts to depopulate Citizens. But from my experience, he got things exactly backwards.

Specifically, the law Scott vetoed would have allowed homeowners to return to Citizens if the private insurance company to which they’d switched raised rates by more than 10 percent in the first three years.

When my Citizens policy came up for renewal last year, private insurance companies peppered me with letters and phone calls urging me to check their rates before re-upping with Citizens.

I followed up with several of the companies, and most offered rates lower than what Citizens was charging. My potential savings ranged from $300 a year to more than $1,000 a year.

That range itself made me suspicious. Why were some policy premiums so much less than others?

My biggest worry, though, was attempting to figure out just how “guaranteed” the new rates would be. I had heard vague horror stories about people jumping at the new rates, only to find after a “review” by their new company that the premium would be much higher.

My confidence was not bolstered by discussions with representatives from the insurance companies. Some seemed to have much more solid information about my home than others – for example, the distance from a fire station and the type of foundation. I didn’t want to act on a quote from a company that assumed I was near a fire station only to be penalized by a higher premium when they “discovered” that I was more than five miles away.

Not that Citizens always got things right. It took several years for me to persuade the company that I had a metal roof – which had been in place since I bought the house.

At the same time, I was wading through the bureaucratic steps necessary to correct a mistake in my flood-zone classification that had been made by the survey crew when I bought the house in 1999. Turns out I had been paying the wrong flood insurance premium the whole time.

None of this increased my trust in insurance companies.

Despite repeated efforts, I could not get any of the private insurance companies to firmly commit to the dollar amount they quoted me for my home insurance premium. Neither could I ever get straight my rights – if any – to return to Citizens if the new policy turned out to be much more expensive.

So, in the end, I just stayed with Citizens. My decision would have been different if I could have been protected by the 10 percent provision that Gov. Scott just vetoed.

I’m sure I’m not alone. The right to return to Citizens would have helped to get people out of Citizens. Think of it as an insurance policy against bait-and-switch tactics. The Legislature should try to override Gov. Scott’s veto.

Jac Wilder VerSteeg is editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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