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St. Louis Post-Dispatch Savvy Consumer Column: Water Rates Go Up, Auto Insurance Rates Are Down

Oct 11, 2007

By Michael D. Sorkin, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Oct. 12--The price of water is going up, maybe as soon as next week in St. Louis County and parts of St. Charles County.

Missouri-American Water Co. will raise rates for its 1.5 million Missouri customers by $28.4 million a year. The percentage increase varies by community.

In St. Louis County, where the company has 348,000 water customers, increases will average 12 percent. A typical household will pay $68.83, a hike of $7.62. Water bills in St. Louis County are quarterly.

The company serves about 29,000 customers in St. Charles County, where bills will increase 9 percent. A typical household will see a monthly bill of $24.55, a $1.97 increase.

The Missouri Public Service Commission approved the increase last week. With the commission's permission, the company plans to start the higher rates Sunday.

The Missouri company is a subsidiary of American Water, the nation's largest provider of water, which in turn is owned by RWE AG of Germany.

The Illinois subsidiary, Illinois-American Water Co., is seeking a 20 percent rate increase for its 72,000 customers in Belleville, Granite City, East St. Louis and other parts of the Metro East area. Typical households will pay $38.13, an increase of $5.51 per month.

The Illinois Commerce Commission will rule on the higher rates by July.

AUTO INSURANCE RATES ARE DOWN

Insurance companies are having another banner year, with one survey finding that prices of property-casualty premiums are down 15 percent in 2007 due to higher profits.

In Missouri, insurers cut premiums for auto insurance to $805 in 2005, compared to an average of $826 in 2004, the most recent years surveyed. That's according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

In Illinois, consumers paid an average of $830.69 during 2005, compared to $848.56 a year earlier.

Nationally, the price of auto insurance premiums fell 1.2 percent in 2005. Prices were down 2.1 percent in Illinois and 2.6 percent in Missouri.

In Missouri, state regulators and the governor touted the lower rates, saying that only 13 states have cheaper premiums. But neither it nor Illinois sets auto insurance prices.

State Farm credits a pro-business regulatory and legislative environment and says claims in Missouri are low.

To view the national survey, click on:

http://www.naic.org/documents/research_stats_2005_auto_database_sample.pdf

TITLE INSURANCE ACCORD ANNOUNCED

You'll probably get title insurance if you buy a home. But few consumers know they can shop for it.

Last November, Doug Ommen, now Missouri's insurance commissioner, and his department filed administrative charges against 16 St. Louis area title insurance agencies.

The state accused them of misrepresenting or concealing prices and of sometimes having two prices. Some consumers paid three times more for identical insurance.

On Thursday, the Missouri Department of Insurance Financial Insitutions and Professional Registration announced that five of the title agencies have signed consent orders agreeing to change how they disclose prices.

Ommen said the abuses were widespread. "Unfortunately, the findings of our investigation proved to hold true throughout most of the market," he said.

This was first time in years that Missouri has cracked down on the sale of title insurance. Ommen said it demonstrates how the industry will be regulated "both now and in the future."

Department spokeswoman Emily Kampeter says the remaining cases are expected to be settled within the next few weeks.

To view the settlements, click on:

http://www.insurance.mo.gov/cgi-bin/EnforcementList.pl

msorkin@post-dispatch.com -- 314-340-8347

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Copyright (c) 2007, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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