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Disasters could push up insurance rates

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's insurance commissioner said homeowners' policies could face some “upward pressure,” as he was asked Tuesday about the impact on rates from this year's series of natural disasters.

Commissioner David Altmaier said the state Office of Insurance Regulation hasn't seen any indications that insurers are unable to meet claims from Hurricane Irma, which hit the state Sept. 10 and Sept. 11.

But he said with Irma, Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and devastating wildfires in California, there may be a trickle-down effect from companies that provide backup insurance to insurers.

“We would expect some upward pressure on reinsurance rates that might impact the direct rates that Floridians pay, but at this point in time the precise number is a little early to predict,” Altmaier told Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet.

Altmaier's comments came after his office decided against extending a temporary freeze on insurance policy cancellations and non-renewals. The freeze ended Sunday. Altmaier said Tuesday -- after his Cabinet appearance -- that there was little sign that an extension was warranted.

“We haven't seen anything that would indicate that people haven't had the chance to get back to their homes as this point and make a claim,” Altmaier said.

In the order issued last month, insurers were barred from canceling or non-renewing policies unless policyholders made written requests. A separate part of the order, which remains in place, imposed for 90 days a similar freeze but only for property that had been damaged by Irma.

As of Friday, 747,534 claims have been filed from Irma, worth an estimated $4.94 billion in losses, according to the Office of Insurance Regulation. The figures -- up from 703,671 claims and $4.57 billion in losses a week earlier -- are driven by claims in Miami-Dade, Orange, Broward, Lee, Collier, Polk, Brevard, Duval, Palm Beach and Monroe counties.

Altmaier told the Cabinet that the number of claims is expected “to increase over the next several weeks as the claims process continues to play out.”