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Citizens insurance could hit 1.2M policies by January: What this means for Florida homeowners

by: Mahsa Saeidi
Posted: Jul 14, 2022 / 07:50 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 14, 2022 / 07:50 PM EDT

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — On the eve of nearly 80,000 Floridians losing their coverage, the CEO of Florida’s insurance company, Citizens, revealed his concerns over the state’s property insurance crisis.

For the third time in as many months, an insurance company bit the dust. That leaves thousands scrambling to get the protection of a new policy. 

Many will end up being insured by Citizens Property Insurance, the state-backed insurer. CEO Barry Gilway tells 8 On Your Side that Citizens could hit 1.2 million policies by January. That means they have more than doubled in just two years.

“Citizens is growing, why is that a problem?” asked Investigator Mahsa Saeidi.

“The whole objective is to basically hold the exposure down so that we’re never in a position to have to assess,” said Gilway.

Essentially, an assessment is a tax on Floridians.

“First we assess our own policyholders, then we assess under an emergency assessment – we can assess the general public, whether it’s an auto policy, a homeowner’s policy, etc.,” said Gilway. “It’s highly unlikely that we’re in a position where we have to assess but it’s most definitely a possibility if we have that one in 100 storm.”

8 On Your Side asked how long Citizens can continue to take on new policies.

“Well the more policies you take on, the more reinsurance you need. In other words – when we grow, we attempt to place a lot of that exposure offshore,” Gilway explained. “The reason people are getting cancelled is not because you’re a bad homeowner, it’s not because you have losses, it’s because the insurance companies are exiting the state.”

Gilway anticipates more problems for homeowners but only in the short-term.

“I talk to investors probably on a weekly basis and I tell them, get your certificate of operation in place right now because by the middle of 2023 we’re going to have 1.2 million policies that are available to you,” said Gilway.DeSantis signs property insurance, Surfside bills from special session

While Gilway remains optimistic, 8 On Your Side asked if there’s anything that keeps him up at night.

“If a major, major storm hits – a one in 75 storm hits – at our current growth, at our current level, there’d be 350,000 claims, and the ability to effectively service our customers when that happens – that could be a nightmare, not just for Citizens but for the entire state,” said Gilway.

Gilway says Citizens is financially sound and well-run.

“We’re very well established today,” he said. 

So how big would a storm have to be for taxpayers to be on the hook? Andrew was one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history. We’re told it would have to be worse than that.

Gilway has been the leader at Citizens for 10 years and in the insurance industry for 52 years.

“I have an absolutely incredible team of people that I work with, I love them,” he said.

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