Says NY Auto Injury Bill A Better Bet This Year

By Daniel Hays

NU Online News Service, Feb. 3, 11:49 a.m. EST?A long political stalemate over a legislative package designed to fight New York’s $1 billion-a-year auto injury fraud problem may be on its way to resolution, a key lawmaker told National Underwriter.

Chances that a measure will pass are “pretty good,” said Assembly Insurance Committee Chairman Alexander “Pete” Grannis, D-Manhattan.

For more than two years, efforts to pass a measure have been stalled as the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led Assembly has each proposed their own packages and rejected the other house’s offering.

This year, however, Mr. Grannis highlighted the fact that State Sen. Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Saratoga, has agreed to take the matter up in a joint conference committee.

“That’s a positive sign. Last year he [Mr. Bruno] refused to [conference]. You don’t go to committee unless you’re expecting something to pass. I’m optimistic,” Mr. Grannis said.

He said Senate Republicans “have a defined position and we have a position.”

In the assemblyman’s view, the Democratic measure is “more balanced” because it addresses more consumer issues and the Senate focuses on “criminal penalties and an industry agenda.”

Among the biggest points of division, he said, is the Democrats’ proposal for an Office of Consumer Advocate “whose mission is not the solvency or licensing of insurance companies.”

Mr. Grannis said he would also expect any final legislation to allow for a quick adjustment of rates to reflect the savings expected to result from the fraud-fighting measures.

The Assembly committee chairman noted that the Senate is backing legislation for the reinstatement of flex rating for insurers, which permits companies to raise or lower rates by 7 percent without prior approval as well as drop up to two percent of their customers in a given geographic region. “I think that is worthy of discussion, but not as a stand-alone measure,” he said.

Mr. Grannis, as he has in the past, said he believed that measures to protect insurers must be dealt with at the same time as measures to protect consumers, because in the past, consumers have been forgotten.