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Mass. auto assigned risk plan could be history before it even begins

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Massachusetts insurance agents have urged the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick to scrap a proposed auto insurance assigned risk plan that the previous administration championed for four years.

Former Insurance Commissioner Julianne Bowler ordered final implementation of the Massachusetts Assigned Insurance Plan (MAIP) in the waning weeks of the Romney administration but the Patrick administration put the brakes on that, promising further review of its effect on the marketplace.

The influential Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents, at a public hearing, urged the state to not go forward with the MAIP. Rejecting the MAIP would maintain “the most consumer-friendly automobile residual market in the country,” the agents testified.

Instead, MAIA recommended that the Division of Insurance and Commonwealth Auto Reinsurers, which administers the high risk system, continue to modify the current system and encourage insurers to appoint exclusive representative producers (ERPs), who handle only high risk accounts, as voluntary agents.

“An assigned risk plan is not the vehicle to attain necessary residual market reform. The fine-tuning of CAR rules, however, should be initiated by CAR and the DOl, as an alternative in order to maintain the balance of the residual market burden and encourage the appointment of ERPs as voluntary agencies. Again, we urge you to disapprove all CAR rules related to an assigned risk plan and not go forward with the MAIP,” the agents testified.

MAIA cited what it said are advantages of the current high risk assignment system including that it allows consumers to choose the agency and company with which they want to do business and it has kept the size of the residual market small at about 5 percent of market.

The proposed assigned risk plan has had a long history — it has been in the works and the subject of multiple hearings and even a court ruling since 2003. On Dec. 13, 2006, former Gov. Mitt Romney’s insurance chief Bowler finally approved rules to activate the new plan starting in April. Bowler said the step would align Massachusetts with other states. She believed that the new plan would more fairly distribute high-risk drivers among insurers.

Massachusetts currently assigns agents representing high-risk drivers to insurers, and then allows them to assign individual drivers into a pool where losses are shared among carriers.

Several key domestic insurers prefer this current assignment system and have steadfastly opposed the MAIP, arguing that the switch is unnecessary and poses risks for consumers and agents. The opponents include Webster-based Commerce Insurance, the state’s largest auto insurer, which lost a court challenge last summer to block Bowler’s plan.

Opponents also include Arbella Insurance Group, which was represented by John Kittel, senior vice president, at the most recent hearing on Feb. 15. Kittel claimed the switch is unnecessary. “Customers have not been clamoring for change, and carriers have been earning sound profits,” he said.

But more than that, according to Kittel, the MAIP would be unfair to consumers and agents. Some drivers would lose discounts and their choice of company under the plan, according to Kittel.

Also, he argued, agents would face an “administrative nightmare” as their business is spread to 19 different companies, each with its own billing and policy service practices.

Kittel recalled a bit of history. “A similar ARP was implemented in 1972 and then reversed in 1973 because of the rampant market disruption it caused. Please don’t force us to repeat this history lesson,” he testified.

The American Insurance Association represented insurers favoring the MAIP. John Murphy, AIA vice president, cited some history as well, pointing out that the state attorney general concluded several years ago that the current system fails to satisfy the statutory mandate for a fair and equitable sharing of residual market losses.

“The rapid transition to a traditional assigned risk plan will be helpful to the broader auto insurance market. It will address current inequities in the system, which are a critical problem. It also will send an important positive signal that Massachusetts is serious about normalizing its auto insurance system,” Murphy added.

Gov. Patrick has named a study group to look into the entire system and make recommendations, which are expected next month.


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