Mass. High Auto Risk Pool Reforms Take Effect

By Steve Tuckey

NU Online News Service, Jan. 17, 12:46 p.m. EST?A trade group representative said Massachusetts auto insurers are expecting positive effects from new rules for coverage of the state’s high risk drivers.[@@]

The new regulations that were signed into law in the waning hours of 2004 by Insurance Commissioner Julie Bowler “are a good first step,” said Frank O’Brien, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“For a long time Massachusetts auto has been known as a black hole and Commissioner Bowler’s order of the 31st is the first step in the long climb out of this black hole.”

The order essentially sets out a three-year process in which the state’s high risk drivers will be randomly assigned to all carriers in the state with a market share greater than 2 percent.

The system currently operates under an assigned agent, or Exclusive Representatives Producers plan, which the industry said is responsible for the number of auto insurance carriers declining to 19 today. Mr. O’Brien said that is the fewest number of auto insurers in any state today.

The Boston-based Safety Insurance Group, a major auto writer in the state, helped spearhead the reforms. A company spokesman said they will help the company improve its loss ratio this year with benefits fully realized in 2006.

The major task of reform of the entire private passenger auto market will be in the hands of the State Legislature this year. Republican Gov. Mitt Romney has pledged to achieve market reforms.

The state currently remains the only one with a so-called “fix and establish” regime in which the commissioner sets the rates after an annual hearing.

“One of the things that happened as a result of the residual (high risk) market reforms is that we are going to have for the first time in a generation a significant debate in this legislative session relative to Massachusetts becoming more like the rest of the nation, or even the world, when it comes to letting markets set auto insurance rates,” Mr. O’Brien said.