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EDITORIAL ; Senators Strangle Overdue Reforms

Oct 25, 2007

Sens. Dianne Wilkerson, Joan Menard and Frederick Berry this week insisted a bill they are aggressively pushing on Beacon Hill won't discourage competition in the auto insurance market. "Minor changes," Wilkerson said.

Tell that to the insurers who took the Patrick administration's reform proposal to heart and are already ramping up their plans to compete for the first time in Massachusetts on both price and perks.

Or to Insurance Commissioner Nonnie Burnes, who crafted the long overdue rules changes that will introduce competition into the auto insurance market for the first time in 30 years. The Senate bill, Burnes said, would "eviscerate" those efforts.

Precisely the way the lovers of the status quo want it.

Apparently Wilkerson and company have the ability to read minds. Because they have convinced themselves, and they are trying to convince two-thirds of their colleagues (enough to overturn a gubernatorial veto), that Burnes' proposed "managed competition" system will lead to skyrocketing premiums for urban drivers.

But as Burnes points out, good drivers everywhere should see their rates drop. And subsidies remain in place for urban drivers. Burnes has also put insurers on notice that she won't approve rate changes that result in premium increases above 10 percent for even the worst-of-the-worst drivers.

That's on top of her carefully-crafted rules that forbid the use of marital status, occupation, income, home ownership, education or credit history when setting rates (factors that other states, mind you, DO allow).

Talk about baby steps. We're barely crawling here.

And yet the obstructionists are in a race to get their bill passed before Nov. 19, when insurers will file their 2008 rate proposals for Burnes' approval. BEFORE anyone has had an opportunity to see what impact the commissioner's modest changes will have on the private passenger market.

It's a market that is even now showing signs of revival. One company has already filed a request to enhance its towing and rental car coverages, Burnes said. Another plans to offer free identity theft insurance for customers. A third has changed its name to rebrand itself with a national carrier to improve its competitiveness. And companies are lining up to get copies of their competitors' rate filings so they can make changes instantly, if need be.

If this legislation passes, all that goes away. Something to be proud of? Not by a long shot.

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

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