TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Citizens Property Insurance has incurred $1.81 billion in losses from Hurricane Irma and handled an estimated 70,800 claims, which has led the state-backed insurer to go outside to cover nearly one-third of its storm-related costs.
But Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Montero told Citizens’ Audit Committee on Tuesday that the insurer’s financial picture is “incredibly strong” despite the losses due to Irma.
With more than two months remaining in the 2018 hurricane season, Montero pointed, for example, to a $6.5 billion surplus and $2.2 billion in coverage through state’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which provides relatively low-cost reinsurance.
The estimated number of claims for last year’s Irma represents about 16 percent of the 442,629 policies that Citizens had as of Aug. 31.
As part of its response to Irma, Citizens expects to receive $534.7 million from the Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and an additional $126.4 million from private reinsurers. The company pays for reinsurance coverage --- essentially insurance for insurers --- so it doesn’t have to dip deep into its surplus.
Irma barreled through much of Florida in September 2017, with the state Office of Insurance Regulation last month estimating $10.45 million in insured losses. That was up from a loss estimate of $9.7 billion in June.
As of Aug. 13, insurers had closed 91.7 percent of the 997,237 claims made by property owners. Residential property owners had made 84 percent of the claims.
The number of claims will not reach 100 percent when the next data call from insurers is conducted in October, as policyholders have three years to report damages from Irma.
Since April, 72,798 newly filed claims were reported to insurers.
Just over 60 percent of the overall claims filed since Irma have resulted in payments. Another 31 percent of the claims were closed without cash changing hands.
Insurance officials have noted that damage amounts often fail to reach policyholders’ hurricane deductibles.
The Office of Insurance Regulation doesn’t release data by individual insurance companies, asserting protection of trade secrets. The numbers also don’t include most agricultural losses, which the state has estimated at $2.5 billion, or damage inflicted by the storm on government facilities, including buildings, roads, parks and beaches.
Residential property owners have done better than commercial property owners in receiving payment from their insurers, with 61 percent of the residential claims resulting in payments. Just 32 percent of commercial claims have resulted in payments from insurers.
Across the state, the top counties for Irma damage claims were Miami-Dade with 126,944, Collier with 91,980, Broward with 82,251, Lee with 81,933 and Orange with 75,495.
Nearly 20 percent of the claims in Miami-Dade County had yet to be closed, while 32 percent had been closed without payments. Broward County had the next highest percentage of open claims, at about 14 percent.
Karen Kees, a spokeswoman for the Office of Insurance Regulation, said Tuesday in an email that no insurers have reported difficulties covering claims. But she said insurers continue to have difficulty responding to Irma due to litigation involving water-damage claims linked to the practice called “assignment of benefits.”
Assignment of benefits involves policyholders signing over insurance claims to contractors and has become highly controversial in recent years.
Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway have pushed lawmakers to address assignment of benefits, which they contend has attracted fraud --- particularly in Southeast Florida --- and is a root cause for growing costs of policies.
Contractors and plaintiffs’ attorneys have countered the process helps ensure damage claims are paid properly.