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Two big storms in two seasons. How will that affect Floridians' hurricane insurance?

Alex Harris, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

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

It doesn't mean that windstorm 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.

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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.

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