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Editorial ; Gov Should Drive Real Auto Reform

Mar 27, 2007

Say what you will about Gov. Mitt Romney, but when it came to reforming the state's dysfunctional auto insurance system his administration tried everything to get the state in gear.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Patrick administration may just idle in neutral.

A group appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick to study the state's auto insurance system, which has lost dozens of carriers over the past 15 years, has recommended no groundbreaking changes in the way rates are set or high risk drivers are assigned to insurance carriers.

(We remind you that Masachusetts continues to be the ONLY state in the nation that sets the rates that auto insurers may charge customers.)

The study group acknowledges the weaknesses in the system and the apparently revolutionary concept of introducing competition into the market, and hey, at least that's something.

"The study group believes that the Massachusetts private passenger automobile insurance market is ailing, and that some form of competitive rating is essential to attract and retain insurers," the report says.

Unfortunately, the form of competitive rating the panel recommends would allow insurers to partially set their own rates - but only within ranges that are - you guessed it! - set by the state insurance commissioner.

In addition, the study group recommends backing off the model introduced by the Romney administration that would more fairly assign high-risk drivers among the state's insurance carriers - a system that would have forced carriers to "own" their own drivers and led to stepped-up efforts at reducing claims and rooting out fraud.

Instead, the panel wants to wait out a series of minor rules changes that were made earlier this year to see if they level the playing field. We're not holding our breath.

The panel also recommends stronger enforcement of traffic laws and better road maintenance to reduce the number of claims. That's fine, but let's not pretend that Geico or Allstate is suddenly going to be beating a path to the commonwealth's door if we install cameras at tricky intersections.

Rep. Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy) last year proposed sensible reforms that called for phasing in competition while including protections for consumers to avoid "rate shock." If only Patrick's panel had studied his bill, first.

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

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