Florida’s state-backed property insurer announced that the debut of a new web-based clearinghouse would be delayed for a few weeks in order to ensure it is working efficiently and to allow more private insurers to participate.

Citizens Property Insurance President Barry Gilway told state lawmakers that he has decided to move the launch date from its original target of January 2 until January 27, 2014.

“When we introduce this we want to be absolutely sure it will be successful,” said Gilway. “By moving this date by three weeks, it gives us the opportunity to do more user testing and have a greater degree of confidence.”

The centerpiece of this year’s property reforms, the clearinghouse has been touted as a means to promote more private insurance market competition while reducing the size of the one-million member Citizens.

As designed, applicants for Citizens coverage will first enter the clearinghouse web-portal where private insurers can review the applications and decide whether to offer the policyholder coverage.

Applicants who receive an offer from a private insurer with similar coverage at rates within 15 percent of Citizens’ rates will no longer be eligible for Citizens coverage.

Initially, only new applicants will be funneled through the clearinghouse. However, the expectation is that Citizens policies up for renewal will likewise flow through the clearinghouse starting in the second quarter of next year.

Gilway said that from a technological standpoint the clearinghouse is similar to that of Healthcare.gov, which is the portal for individuals seeking health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

“The premise is the same,” said Gilway. “We are taking a single entry, shipping it to multiple companies and then in real time getting answers back.”

As a result, Gilway said that Citizens has had to work with each private insurer to resolve application issues while also working with regulators to protect consumers’ privacy concerns.

Gilway said the delay does have a benefit to consumers in that more insurers than planned will be participating at the clearinghouse’s initial launch.

Though about 18 insurers have signed-up to participate in the clearinghouse, only three insurers, United Property & Casualty, Florida Peninsula, and Safe Harbor, were slated to be ready by the January 2 launch date. By moving the date to January 27, up to four other insurers could join that list including, Ark Royal, Bankers, Heritage, and People’s Trust, Gilway said.

“There will be far more opportunities for consumers in terms of the choices they will receive,” said Gilway.

Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Chair David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) told Gilway that while he understands Citizens’ need for more time to workout the intricacies of the clearinghouse, any delays beyond the January 27 deadline might not be as well received.

“I don’t know if some of us won’t be so forgiving if it comes to January 27 and it is not there,” said Simmons. “The state of Florida is depending on you doing this.”