California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has issued proposed emergency regulations to change the system for evaluating insurers’ rate filings, saying that the regulations should help keep property-casualty rates low.
The regulations, which require approval by the State Office of Administrative Law, were generally seen as a positive move by the Association of California Insurance Companies trade group Wednesday, but the organization said more needed to be done.
Mr. Poizner’s Monday announcement said the regulations clarify and streamline the prior-approval rate system by making the rate filing process more efficient, accurate and transparent. They would not apply to the workers’ compensation line.
In addition to allowing insurance companies to seek variances from strict filing requirements, the proposed rules would require insurers to show premium trends for the last six years. At present they must show trends going back only three years.
The new rules “will help speed lower insurance rates to consumers,” as well as increasing transparency in the rate-setting process by requiring insurance companies to provide more information to the public, said the commissioner.
“I will continue to work to make the insurance market more efficient so the people of California will have the lowest possible rates,” Mr. Poizner promised.
California, under the Proposition 103 voter initiative approved in 1988, established a system of prior-approval rate regulation for property-casualty insurance lines.
In 1991, the insurance department adopted a formula to determine whether a proposed rate is excessive or inadequate.
In 2007, the department issued additional regulations spelling out the rate approval formulas in greater detail.
That change last year, which the new regulation would expand on, addresses unique, company-specific circumstances. The formula allows insurers to request a deviation from specific portions of the rate formulas.
Such requests, known as variances, can be granted to insurance companies by the department on a case-by-case basis.
According to the department, emergency regulations to increase efficiency in the rate approval process are needed because up to 200 rate filings are expected by July 14 as insurers seek to comply with recently enacted Auto Rating Factor (ARF) regulations.
Those regulations identify the factors an insurance company may use to rate automobile insurance risk and specify the order and weights of these factors.
The department noted that 46 companies have already complied with the ARF regulations, resulting, it said, in “lower premiums for numerous consumers.”
With hundreds more filings expected, the department said emergency regulations will improve the process and allow these filings to be processed more efficiently.
“The sooner the rate filings are processed and the ARFs are implemented, the sooner consumers can reap the benefits of fairer and potentially lower auto insurance rates,” the department stated.
The regulations, according to the department, modify a component of the formula that will provide more accurate data.
Further, the department said the changes will allow Mr. Poizner “the ability to impact rates to the benefit of consumers. The regulations will also assist in fighting insurance fraud, prevent future losses and encourage insurance companies to provide superior service to policyholders.”
Sam Sorich, president of the Association of California Insurance Companies, said his group is still studying the proposed changes, which “do appear in some respects to provide a little more flexibility in the process of rate review. That’s welcome.”
“As it’s set up now, it’s difficult for an individual insurer to have its particular characteristics considered,” he said, noting that might involve a company’s individual loss experience.
The current rate formulas, he said, use industry averages, which make it difficult to consider the specific situation of an individual company.
ACIC’s initial review finds the proposals for change “are an improvement but need more done in the area of a company’s expenses,” said Mr. Sorich.
The emergency regulations with an extension can only be in place for a year. However, Mr. Sorich said the commissioner plans to make permanent regulatory changes.
“We believe the variances should be expanded to allow a company to show they should have exception to a general rule,” he said.