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Waiting and Watching

By: ELA (Mon, Mar/26/2007)

Somewhere out there, is a report of the Massachusetts private passenger automobile insurance system. It may contain recommendations for reform, or it might recommend sticking with the status quo. It might be the written equivalent of throwing up one’s hands and stomping from a room. I don’t know, and although the suspense has not killed me, I also have not yet made plans for this weekend.
What can Gov. Deval Patrick’s task force have determined in the last 60 days about auto insurance that has not been hashed and rehashed over the last 30 or so years? Can they have made more progress than a task force of legislators and public officials that convened in 2005 and later quietly disbanded, having come to a staggering stalemate over the issue? See what I mean about the dangerous nature of suspense?
I mean, we’ve heard every argument for and against auto insurance reform. And according to Commerce Insurance Company’s top Massachusetts auto insurance expert, James Ermilio, the arguments that once filled the arsenal of reformers have faded away. Premiums have dropped across the board, as have losses to fraudulent claims. And, though it has long been said that altering the auto insurance market is the key to improving the homeowners insurance market, the experience of other coastal states shows that such a solution could only have worked in the days before updated catastrophe models and vicious hurricanes. In the current climate, transforming the auto insurance market could stand to alter only that market – but does offer the opportunity for insurers that already write both auto and homeowners to compete more vigorously for business. And it could mean that homeowners insurers in Massachusetts (of which there are many more than auto carriers) could grow into the profitable auto line. More diversity across lines of business could equal more appetite for homeowners business – even on the coast.
Also this week, Commissioner of Insurance Nonnie S. Burnes announced that the record on the assigned risk plan hearing will close on March 30 – meaning whatever the task force’s report decrees can potentially fuel her decision on the fate of the Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Plan (MAIP). Many in the industry feel MAIP as it almost existed is a ship that has sailed and few are terribly sad to have missed.
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