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Florida Regulator Outlines How Industry Can Help Insureds During COVID-19 Response

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The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has issued an additional memorandum related to the coronavirus outbreak to all the insurers and entities it regulates in an effort to provide general guidance on the treatment of policyholders, according to a statement Wednesday.

The insurance regulator is also offering extensions to insurers for submitting annual statements and allowing electronic signatures for certain entities where allowed by law.

OIR said this newest informational memorandum is being issued as “part of the state’s ongoing efforts to protect Floridians” and in response to Governor Ron DeSantis establishing COVID-19 response protocols and directing a public health emergency in Florida.

“In light of the circumstances related to COVID-19, and the fact that these circumstances are beyond the control of regulated entities, OIR will not consider actions described below that provide benefits to policyholders and are applied in a nondiscriminatory manner to be violations of underwriting guidelines or the prohibitions against unfair trade practices,” the memorandum states.

Leniency on Premium Payments

OIR said it encourages regulated entities, when prudently possible, to be flexible with premium payments in order to avoid a lapse in coverage. It noted that as part of the state’s ongoing efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State of Florida have advised individuals to adopt far-reaching social distancing measures, such as working from home and avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people. This could cause workers in many industries to be displaced for a period of time. OIR said insurers can be flexible to policyholders in several ways, including: relaxing due dates; extending grace or reinstatement periods; waiving late fees and penalties; and allowing payment plans.

“Regulated entities are encouraged to only consider cancellation of policies if all possible efforts to work with consumers to continue coverage have been exhausted. Regulated entities should extensively and proactively message, to their consumers and agency partners, the avenues by which consumers and agents can communicate specific situations to regulated entities for purposes of allowing flexibility,” the memorandum states.

Removing Exclusions on Certain Personal Auto Exclusions

OIR noted that in response to the state efforts to limit large gatherings while remaining open, many restaurants and other businesses are offering delivery of goods and services. As a result, many insureds may be temporarily utilizing their personal automobile for purposes that might otherwise be considered commercial use.

“Regulated entities are encouraged to consider allowing such use for insureds, provided that such use is limited to the duration of the Emergency Orders,” the order states.

Underwriting and Claims Inspections

Given the guidance issued by the State of Florida regarding social distancing, consumers may not be able or willing to receive in-person inspections of insured property for the purposes of binding or issuing new or renewal insurance policies, wind mitigation inspections, or adjusting a claim and employers may not be able or willing to receive in-person auditors for audits of its business records. OIR said regulated entities, agents, consumers, and employers are strongly encouraged to explore virtual options for underwriting and adjusting claims in lieu of in-person property inspections and for premium audits of employers’ records.

General Considerations

OIR said it “understands that as regulated entities undertake efforts to move employees into telework arrangements, and as OIR itself moves employees into telework arrangements, certain operations and functions may need to be revised temporarily.”

It encouraged companies to implement several standards to meet these emerging needs:

  1. In any case where handwritten statements are required from policyholders or customers, regulated entities are encouraged to accept electronic communications.
  2. Regulated entities are encouraged to use email to initially arrange teleconferences with OIR staff, as many OIR staff will be in telework arrangements and may not be accessible via their normal OIR phone number.
  3. OIR is granting a 30-day extension for any annual statements due to be filed with OIR by a regulated entity on or before May 1, 2020, for the certain regulated entities, including: a. health maintenance organizations; b. insurance administrators; c. continuing care providers; d. multiple-employer welfare arrangements.
  4. OIR said it will accept electronic signatures and electronic notarizations that comply with Florida law, or equivalent laws in the regulated entity’s domiciliary jurisdiction, on documents regulated entities are required to file with OIR through May 1, 2020.

“OIR stands ready to assist with any issues or questions to best serve Floridians and will continue its communication with insurers regarding COVID-19,” The statement said.

This informational memorandum is in addition to, and does not replace previous memorandums.

Source: Florida Office of Insurance Regulation

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California Commissioner Orders Insurance Claim, Coverage Deadline Extensions

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California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has issued a notice to insurers ordering them to stop enforcing policy or statutory deadlines on policyholders for claims or coverage until 90 days after the statewide “state of emergency” or other “state of emergency” has ended related to COVID-19.

The California Department of Insurance said the aim of the notice is to protect policyholders from losing, limiting, or waiving policy benefits as a result of the current national state of emergency.

Insurers have been notified that they should not attempt to enforce statutory deadlines on their policyholders for claim forms, proof of loss, medical examinations, and physical inspections, or any other deadlines which, if not met, could force policyholders to lose their coverage.

Wildfire Claims

CDI additionally said it has received complaints from consumers indicating some insurance companies are telling their insureds who suffered losses from the November 2018 fires they must continue to repair or rebuild their homes during this COVID-19 crisis in order to obtain the full replacement cost and additional living expense (ALE) benefits owed to them

However, CDI said applicable law requires that insurers provide no less than 36 months, plus additional six-month extensions for “good cause,” for insureds to collect full replacement cost and ALE for delays in the reconstruction process that are the result of circumstances beyond the control of the insured such as unavoidable construction permit delays, lack of necessary construction materials, and lack of available contractors to perform the necessary work.

According to Commissioner Lara and the CDI, the current COVID-19 pandemic is a circumstance beyond the control of the insured, thereby constituting “good cause” under the applicable laws.

Source: CDI

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Mississippi Businesses Shift Production During Pandemic

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As the nation hunkers down and people shelter in place amid the coronavirus pandemic, several Mississippi businesses have stayed open, switching gears to make much-needed products.

A jeans company is making face guards, a coffeehouse is making loaves of bread and distilleries are making hand sanitizer. They’re hoping to keep their employees working as they help fellow Mississippians battle the outbreak.

“Americans roll up their sleeves. Mississippians roll up their sleeves,” Josh West, CEO of Blue Delta Jeans, said at the company’s manufacturing plant in Shannon, where the production of custom jeans has been retooled for mask-making. “We’ve dealt with disasters before, nothing like this, but it’s just kind of ingrained, especially in the manufacturing community.”

Ten seamstresses, wearing gloves and masks, sat behind sewing machines stitching together sheets of fabric and elastic bands to create a face guard. Three layers of white fabric provide enough protection to keep elements from leaving or entering a person’s mouth and nose.

The first batch will be going to Memphis, Tennessee, for distribution by the local government. Masks will then be sent to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

“We don’t want to be the distribution point. The government agencies know where they need to go,” West said. “We just want to ship our bulk to them and let them distribute the face guards to people.”

West estimates a single seamstress can produce about 42 face guards in an hour. With many of his employees ready for the challenge, he has set a goal to make up to 10,000 masks daily.

“(Being able to work) means a lot to me,” said Sarah Richey, an aide at Blue Delta Jeans who is a widow and has her son and granddaughter living under her roof. “I’m just glad that we work for a company that has found us something else to do. It makes you feel proud.”

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that 3.28 million unemployment claims were filed in the week that ended March 21.

“I’m so grateful to be considered an essential employee,” said Laura Hallmark, the head baker at Strange Brew Coffeehouse in Tupelo. “I’m grateful to be working at an essential establishment that is providing food for our community. I’m grateful because my husband is out of work right now, so I’m the breadwinner.”

Strange Brew Coffeehouse has 75 employees at three locations in northern Mississippi and is adding up to six more workers. Each location is making up to 50 loaves of fresh homemade bread per day.

“I know it’s exciting that we are hiring this week, which is a word that you don’t hear too much around the city right now,” Strange Brew Coffeehouse owner Katelyn Reed said moments before interviewing potential employees. “Even in times like this, being able to bring on extra hands to to be able to meet the demand is really important, and I’m really proud of that.”

At the Tupelo location, customers don’t have to leave their car because they’re able to pick up on the drive-thru window at the building that was once a gas station.

Customer Maggie Reeder, an occupational therapist in Tupelo, rolled by the drive-thru and bought a loaf of fresh bread while picking up coffee with her friend Kylie Waldrop.

“In the store it’s been really hard to find like toilet paper, bread, milk, eggs,” Reeder said.

Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Kiln and Cathead Distillery in Jackson are now producing alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Cathead, which usually makes vodka, announced Monday that it is setting up 55-gallons (208-liter) barrels of hand sanitizer outside four stores in Jackson where people could fill up their own containers for free. Officials were asking people to take no more than 12 ounces (340 grams) each.

“That’s pretty much the heart of small business,” Reed said. “It’s doing whatever you can to keep as many people employed as long as you can. We were lucky to find a way that also serves the community.”

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Gender Reveal Party Sparks 10-Acre Fire in Florida

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A gender reveal party mixed with explosives sparked a 10-acre fire in Florida.

It happened Saturday in Brevard County, WESH-TV reported.

The county has prohibited open burning because of an increase in fires, and officials are urging people to follow the rules and avoid calls that can strain medical resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Something as seemingly innocent as a gender reveal can turn into a large-scale disaster,” said Mark Schollmeyer, the county’s Fire Rescue Chief.

A violation of the burn ban comes with a fine of up to $500 and jail time.

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