Citizens Insurance Eyes ‘Assignment of Benefits’

15 Oct

Citizens Property Insurance Florida

Citizens Property Insurance has delayed the decision on their rate hikes for 2019 and is planning to hold public meetings to gather input on the assignment of benefits issue which many insurers claim is the main cause of rate hikes in recent years.

Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway announced Tuesday that the insurer is looking into the “logistics” for public roundtable discussions that will look for solutions to the “assignment of benefits” issue. The request for public meetings came from state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

“The bottom line is AOB abuse and runaway litigation threaten to raise premiums for many Citizens policyholders who otherwise would see their rates remain steady or go down,” Gilway said in a recent statement.

The Issue With AOB

The assignment of benefits issue has become a major headache for insurers over the last few years as less than honest contractors have teamed up with shady lawyers to drive up the costs of claims.

When a homeowner signs an AOB form they basically sign their insurance benefits over to the contractor for that particular claim. Contractors can make decisions about the repairs and then bill the insurance company directly. It also allows them to sue the insurance company.

Contractors working on non-weather related water damage have been the biggest user of AOB forms and are driving up the cost of insurance for all homeowners according to Citizens Property. These contractors submit claims well above the market rate on the job and when the claim is denied they sue. As it is often cheaper to settle, than battle in court, Citizens Property and other insurers end up paying more for claims than they should.

However, contractors and the attorneys bringing the suits claim that the assignment of benefits process helps make sure they are paid fairly. The dispute between the two groups has been going on for years and has definitely impacted rates for the majority of homeowners.

Patronis recently urged Citizens to gather public input regarding “skyrocketing non-weather water losses and increased litigation.”

“When used correctly with reputable contractors, assigning your benefits over isn’t a bad practice,” Patronis said in a recent statement. “However, in the hands of bad actors who want to make a quick buck that could mean skyrocketing insurance rates for everyone.”

State data shows that the number of assignment-of-benefits lawsuits has gone from about 400 in 2006 to over 28,000 in 2016.

The Legislature Has Not Found a Solution

AOB claims tend to be much more expensive than a normal claim according to statistics. Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, has said that AOB-associated claims are roughly 85 percent more expensive than claims without an AOB.

Despite major lobbying from both the insurance industry and lawyer groups, the Florida Legislature has been unable to pass laws addressing the issue.

Citizens Property has delayed the decision on 2019 rates until December. Their initial proposal involved pushing up residential rates an average of 7.9 percent and 8.9 percent for commercial policyholders. Citizens Property is holding off until they can access the impact that a new “managed repair” program has on the cost of water related claims.

This program affects Citizens policyholders who have suffered water damage from a non-weather event. Policyholders have the option of making a normal claim on their policy (where AOB is still an option) but repairs are capped at $10,000 with a $3,000 limit on emergency services.

If the policyholder opts to use their managed-repair program the damage will be repaired by a Citizens Property approved contractor. This removes the repair caps for policyholders and allows Citizens Property to control costs by working with contractors they trust. The work is covered by a three-year warranty.

Once this program has been assessed and public opinion gathered Citizens Property will decide how to proceed.

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