ORLANDO, Fla. — Nine months after Hurricane Michael slammed into Florida's Gulf Coast, tens of thousands are still waiting for insurance payouts to help rebuild.
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Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said more than $6.6 billion in insurance claims have already been paid out, but there still remains at least 21,669 open claims. Most of those, 15,970, are in the hardest-hit Bay County.
"They're going to be the most challenging claims, claims that are finger-pointing between flood insurance and wind storm insurance," Patronis said.
"These are claims represented by attorneys or public adjusters that maybe have complications so this is going to be the last toughest part to close out of the books," he continued.
The CFO's office said it's received more than 1,500 complaints about insurance claims after Hurricane Michael. Of those complaints, Patronis said his office has helped recover almost $24 million for policy-holders.
It puts into question whether the state can handle the financial burdens of major storms.
"Wall Street has already said Hurricane Michael will probably have a net positive impact to the state's economy," Patronis said, saying one reason is because of the state's AAA bond rating. "We're not going to be borrowing ourselves out to get recovery started."
Patronis said beyond state programs in place as backups, they also ensure that insurance companies can actually pay out policies they're issuing.
"There is a standard that has to be kept, which is why insurance carriers and property casualty companies that do business in Florida have to carry reinsurance, and we force them to buy into our own state's reinsurance policy. And we're going to make sure our companies in the state of Florida are as robust as we can," Patronis said.
Storms can cost billions of dollars in damage, putting the direct financial pinch not just on local governments but on families, too.
BE FINANCIALLY PREPARED BEFORE A STORM
There are three things you can do to make sure you are financially ready for a storm:
1. Ensure your policy reflects your home's current value. This can be especially important after home renovations and upgrades.
"It's important you sit down every year with your insurance agent and help evaluate and they'll look at the market conditions and what replacement costs are," Patronis said.
2. Safeguard your insurance policy by ensuring it’s readily available physically or digitally after a storm.
It's also important to understand what your policy covers and what it does not. Flood insurance for example may be sold by local insurance providers, however it is its own separate policy available only through The National Flood Insurance Program. Coverage purchased through The National Flood Insurance Program only takes effect after 30 days.
3. Inventory your property. This is the time to take photos and videos of the inside and outside of your home to showcase your property’s value and possession. Consider storing the photos and videos online in a private photo album or database.
"That little piece of evidence will help, that's the difference between getting some of your claim because there's no arguing over (what you own)," Patronis said. "All of this builds into the value of what you're entitled to."
Florida's CFO office provides a series of consumer protection guides through its website and by calling 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.