BY TIMOTHY O’HARA Citizen Staff
tohara@keysnews.com

The local insurance watchdog group FIRM (Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe) plans to file a legal challenge to an 8.9 percent windstorm insurance rate increase.

Last week, the state Office of Insurance Regulation approved the rate hike request by Citizens Property Insurance Corp, despite dramatic discrepancies among the four models used to come up with the rate, including one calling for a decrease.

FIRM board members, local elected officials and others had requested the state agency either reject the rate increase or postpone implementation until more study could be done and a more sound rate is determined.

The FIRM board met Thursday and agreed to request a hearing before a state Department of Administrative Hearings judge, which would allow the group to challenge the rate increase in a court-like setting. The group plans to make the request within the next 30 days, FIRM board Chair Mel Montagne said.

“We are not standing still. We are moving forward,” Montagne said.

The nearly 9 percent increase will result in the average premium from $3,706 a year to $4,033. With the fees and surcharges Citizens levies, the increases could be more like 12 percent, Montagne said. The increase would result in extra $6 million being levied on Monroe County homes and businesses.

The Florida Keys have been hit with 221 percent increases in windstorm rates since 2010, according to FIRM.

Also, the group plans to meet with state legislators and the governor and Florida Cabinet to lobby to postpone the rate. On Thursday, the group called on State House Rep. Holly Raschein’s administrative aid Kate DeLoach to have Raschein to facilitate the meetings.

DeLoach read a letter from Raschein in which she said she was disappointed about the rate request not being postponed, Raschein wrote.

FIRM board member and former Key West City Commissioner Teri Johnston called on Raschein to do more.

“We need more than disappointed. We need action,” Johnston said. “We need legislation.”

Montagne, Raschein and County Mayor Heather Carruthers sent letters asking the Office of Insurance Regulation to delay or halt the rate increase because findings in the four rate models vary so widely, with one calling for a 77 percent increase and another making the case for an 8 percent decrease.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp is the largest property insurer in the Florida Keys and the insurer of last resort.

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