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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

DeSantis expects property insurance reforms during a special session as more policies could fall

DeSantis smiling while speaking at the podium and surrounded by nurses
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed confidence that a special legislative session will help stabilize Florida’s property-insurance system during an appearance at Seminole State College of Florida on May 16, 2022.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday expressed confidence that a special legislative session will help stabilize Florida’s property-insurance system, but the troubled market is taking another blow as a group of companies is poised to cancel more than 68,000 policies.

“The good news is, on property insurance, I think we’re going to get really, really significant reforms,” DeSantis said during an appearance at Seminole State College of Florida.

DeSantis made the comments a week before the May 23 start of a special session that he called to address property-insurance problems that have led to homeowners losing policies and facing huge rate hikes.

The comments also came three days after the state Office of Insurance Regulation approved an agreement that will lead to FedNat Insurance Co., Maison Insurance Co. and Monarch National Insurance Co. canceling 68,200 policies, with 45 days’ notice to policyholders. The three insurers are part of the same holding company.

The agreement, known as a consent order, said the early cancellation of policies is an “extraordinary statutory remedy reserved to address insurers which are or may be in hazardous financial condition without the cancellation of some or all of its policies.”

“After review of the information filed in support of this request, and considering all of the attendant facts and circumstances, the office finds that approval of the early cancellation plan filed by the companies is necessary to protect the best interests of its policyholders and the public,” the agreement said.

DeSantis did not provide details of changes he expects lawmakers to pass during the special session. But he indicated that lawmakers could try to curb litigation over insurance claims, an issue that insurers have long blamed for financial losses.

“That is causing these premiums to escalate,” DeSantis said. “And so we have to address that. It’s something that is very important.”

Other potential issues could include trying to address the availability and affordability of reinsurance, which is critical backup coverage for insurers. Reinsurance is a key part of policyholders’ rates and affects decisions about how much coverage insurers can write.

The House and Senate could not reach agreement during this year’s regular session on a property-insurance bill, with the Senate wanting to go further than the House to bolster the insurance industry. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said more time was needed to see the results of changes made in a 2021 insurance law.

DeSantis on Monday said the 2021 law had some “good stuff.”

“But it just didn’t do enough, I think, to really stabilize this situation,” he said. “And so that’s going to be what we’re trying to do, and I think that is something we must do.”

Three Florida property insurers — Lighthouse Property Insurance Corp., Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co. and St. Johns Insurance Co. — have been declared insolvent and gone into receivership since February.

Also, the Office of Insurance Regulation will hold three hearings Tuesday on proposals by First Floridian Auto and Home Insurance Co., Kin Interinsurance Network and Florida Farm Bureau General Insurance Co. and Florida Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Co. that would raise homeowners’ rates by more than 20 percent.

The agreement reached Friday will lead to 56,500 FedNat Insurance Co. policies being canceled and another 83,000 FedNat policies moving to Monarch National Insurance Co. It also cited a plan to “wind down the operation” of FedNat.

About 8,400 Monarch policies and all 3,300 of Maison Insurance Co.’s Florida policies will be canceled. Also, a new investor will put capital into Monarch, though details of that investment were not included in the consent order.

It is not clear where the 68,200 canceled policyholders will find coverage, particularly because they will be looking for new insurance around the beginning of hurricane season. With other insurers dropping policies, the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. had grown to 851,000 policies as of the end of April — up from 589,000 policies a year earlier.

Citizens, which was created as an insurer of last resort, has typically picked up 20 to 25 percent of the policies that have been shed when financially troubled companies went into receivership, said Michael Peltier, a Citizens spokesman. At least part of the policies from FedNat, Monarch and Maison are expected to wind up with Citizens.

“It’s not going to be all of them,” Peltier said. “But it’ll be a chunk.”

During a call last week with analysts, Michael Braun, chief executive officer of FedNat Holding Co., which includes FedNat Insurance, Monarch and Maison, acknowledged the problems in the market are having far-ranging effects.

“It’s very difficult on the policyholders, it’s very difficult on the agents, it’s very disruptive. People are having a lot of trouble finding coverage. Citizens (Property Insurance) is growing exponentially,” Braun said.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.