Emergency workers Dr. Patricia Cantrell, left, and Ana Kaufmann, with the South Florida Search and Rescue Task Force 2, survey damage at the western edge of town at Mexico Beach, population 1200, which lay devastated on Thursday after Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Miami Herald, October 17, 2018 by Alex Harris

In just over a year, Florida has been slammed with two deadly hurricanes that claimed dozens of lives and caused upwards of $40 billions in damages.

It doesn’t mean that wind storm rates will skyrocket, at least this time. Experts believe the state’s insurance industry can weather the latest losses from Hurricane Michael without significant increases in premiums statewide.

Historically, major storms — or a string of them — have bankrupted the state’s insurance firms and sent rates skyrocketing.

In more recent years, carriers have taken out enough of their own re-insurance to carry them through, said Jay Neal, president and CEO of the Florida Association for Insurance Reform.

“Florida carriers are so well re-insured that it is highly unlikely a catastrophic event will cause a failure of an insurance company in Florida,” he said. “Floridians that are insured should feel pretty good about the position they’re in.”

About 60 percent of the state’s homeowner’s policies are held by Florida companies, according to calculations by Fitch Ratings. To maintain their ratings, those firms have to buy enough re-insurance (insurance the company carries on itself) to pay for a 50-year storm and a 100-year storm, plus a little extra.

It would take a monster hurricane in a well-populated area to cause the kind of damage needed to raise rates statewide or bankrupt one of those companies, said Brian Schneider, senior director at Fitch Ratings.

“We haven’t seen a level of that loss yet that would impact these companies,” he said.

In 1992, the then-record breaking $27 billion loss from Hurricane Andrew drove many companies out of the state and forced Florida to create state-owned Citizens Property Insurance, commonly known as the “insurer of last resort.” Some of the smaller stragglers were wiped out by the back-to-back 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when the state took multiple strikes. Collectively, Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina and Wilma cost Florida insurers more than $40 billion in today’s dollars.

Since then, the state had been relatively untested by huge, expensive storms. Hurricane Irma changed that, causing an estimated $30 billion in damages all over Florida. Now, estimates show Hurricane Michael could cause around $10 to $12 billion in damages.

Already, the first batch of Hurricane Michael claims has trickled in: more than 38,000 claims totaling an estimated $326 million in insured losses have been filed, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

Schneider estimated that the “magic number” for modern-day insurance firms to feel serious pain could be around $50 billion.

“That not to say we wouldn’t see more isolated incidences of price changes. There’s more risk in the panhandle than they thought before,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect to see broad increases across the state.”

In the Keys, Mel Montagne, president of Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe, a lobbying group dedicated to keeping insurance rates low for Keys residents, said rates haven’t changed since Irma.

“We really haven’t seen anything go up drastically other that regular increases we’ve seen on flood,” he said.

His group was part of the successful push to delay Citizens’ latest rate hike to December, and Montagne said he wants to push it back even further.

However, he thinks Michael could be a “game changer” for the industry, but it isn’t clear yet. “I think the level of destruction we have down here doesn’t get near what we see up there,” he said.

“Let me see that crystal ball,” he joked.

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