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Editorial ; Hopes Are Dimming for Auto Reform

Jan 22, 2007

Gov. Deval Patrick is sending strong signals about the future of the state's antiquated auto insurance system, and so far not a single one of them is very good.

First, he canned Insurance Commissioner Julianne Bowler, a champion of insurance reform under former Gov. Mitt Romney.

And if we held out any hope that Patrick might advance the reform agenda that Bowler started - well, we shouldn't have. In another potentially damaging move, Patrick sent word on Friday that he's suspending the "assigned risk" plan that Bowler fought all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court for the right to implement.

Under the current system (flawed in countless ways), the highest- risk drivers that no one wants to cover are assigned to a statewide pool, with losses spread among all carriers. The system benefits the largest insurers, who thanked Bowler for her efforts by suing her, then poured cash into Patrick's campaign.

Bowler's belief, shared here, was that the assigned risk plan would ease the burden on smaller carriers by requiring insurers to cover their own losses, providing an incentive to fight fraud. Less fraud means lower rates. And the move might well stem the tide of carriers fleeing Massachusetts and - imagine - actually encourage more insurers to do business here.

It was the only meaningful reform to emerge recently from Beacon Hill, which makes a lot of noise about overhauling the system but has nothing to show for it.

Meanwhile, Patrick has appointed yet another TASK FORCE to study the insurance system. Don't be shocked if their report joins the countless others gathering dust on bookshelves all over the State House - just the way some insurers and their lobbyists like it.

Patrick may still surprise us, and we sure hope that he does.

Because protecting the status quo means government will retain its stranglehold on the auto insurance system. The big national carriers will continue to shun Massachusetts. And Bay State drivers will be the losers.

(c) 2007 Boston Herald. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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