Florida Insurance Regulators Announce Protections for Home Policyholders due to Irma

Florida homeowners who are wrestling with filing claims, facing policy renewals or fearful of policies being canceled in the wake of Irma have been given a break by state insurance regulators.

In a September 13 emergency order, Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier announced that policyholders will be given an additional 90 days to supply information to their insurance company to complete claims. He also prohibited insurance companies from canceling or refusing to renew policies covering residential properties damaged by Irma for the same timeframe after the properties are repaired. Any attempts by insurers to increase rates on policies are also frozen for at least 90 days.

Further provisions of the order aim to accelerate the payment of insurance claims from Irma. The order says state regulators expect insurers “to implement processes and procedures to facilitate the efficient payment of claims.” While the order sets no specific guidelines for how, or how rapidly, claims must be settled, it urges steps that include “critically analyzing current procedures and streamlining claim payment processes as well as using the latest technological advances to provide prompt and efficient claims service.”

To that end, the commissioner’s order also waives the requirement that policyholders receive written authorization of the outcomes of claims, noting that “the severe and catastrophic impacts” of Irma mean that “many insureds will be unable to receive or send mail.” The commissioner instead encourages insurers to use provisions in Florida’s insurance statutes that allow claims to be paid by electronic transfer, rather than in physical checks.

However, the order prohibits any fee being charged for such service when it’s made in lieu of, say, mailing a check. And it specifies that should funds be misdirected in a digital transaction, the insurer remains liable for paying the claim.

As far as potential rate increases for homeowners insurance in Florida, the regulators specify that companies may continue to file requests to raise premiums in the state, but that “in the interest of the public welfare,” it will not approve any such requests for at least 90 days. That effectively means that the first rate hikes after Irma will be approved no sooner than December of this year.

Similarly, the order stipulates that no insurance policy for a property in Florida may be canceled, or refused for renewal, for at least 90 days. And it leaves the door open to an extension of the freeze period, saying it may be lengthened by another order, issued on October 12, if the Commissioner determines it’s “in the interests of the policyholders.”

There’s also a retroactive order for any recent cancellations of home insurance policies in the state. The order essentially invalidates any cancellation notices “issued or mailed” between August 25 to September 3, inclusive. Those notices must be withdrawn, the order states, and can’t be reissued until at least October 15.

Temporary protections are also in effect for any policyholders whose insurance was financed, and where payments to cover the premiums may have been delayed or missed due to the hurricane. While the finance companies may still issue notices of cancellation, those must include the offer to extend the deadlines for payment until October 15, and to waive any penalties for those late payments.

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