Lame Duck Romney Team Proceeds with Mass. Auto Changes

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Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Julianne Bowler said she intends to finish what she started three years ago in trying to refashion the state’s high risk auto insurance system, despite urgings by some that she leave the task for the administration of newly-elected Gov. Deval Patrick, who will replace her boss, Mitt Romney, on Jan. 4, 2007.Bowler, who could soon be out of her job due to the election of Democrat Patrick, told Insurance Journal that the Romney administration’s plan to replace the current reinsurance system with an assigned risk plan “would have been implemented by now if not for the appeal which was resoundingly rejected by the SJC (Supreme Judicial Court).” She was referring to a failed court challenge to her authority to implement the MAIP.The outgoing chair of the Financial Services Committee, Sen. Andrea Nuciforo, among other opponents of the ARP, has urged Bowler to leave the decision of what to do about the high risk system to the incoming Patrick administration.But Bowler takes the next step toward implementation of the ARP, known as the Massachusetts Assigned Insurance Plan, today when she convenes a public hearing to hear comments on the latest draft of the MAIP rules.It promises to be a lengthy hearing, judging from the number of insurers, insurance agents, consumer advocates and elected officials who have indicated a desire to testify.Among those testifying will be Daniel Foley, Jr., director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents, who will urge that some rules that affect agents be clarified. He is also expected to ask Bowler to make sure the implementation schedule, which now calls for the MAIP to be open for new business on April 1, 2007, is realistic.According to Frank Mancini, executive director for MAIA, agents also want to be assured that the electronic system through which agents would access the MAIP is all tested and ready in time for MAIP’s launching.Incoming Gov. Patrick has not indicated whether he supports the MAIP but industry observers said that regardless of his position they would not expect him to intervene before he actually takes office.Bowler has argued that the MAIP is needed to bring the state’s auto insurance system more in line with those of other states in part as a way to attract new insurers to a market she thinks needs more capital and competition.The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America agrees with Bowler.“The creation of the MAIP will be a significant and very positive development for the Massachusetts private passenger auto insurance market,” according to Frank O’Brien, vice president and regional manager for PCI. “This will mean that for the first time since the creation of the current residual market structure, the participants will be assured that the losses and burdens of the system will be distributed fairly and equitably as required by law. Additionally, the MAIP will eliminate the manipulation and gaming that have been the hallmarks of our bizarre residual market.”In testimony he will submit today, O’Brien maintains that Bowler “has an obligation to finalize the establishment of the MAIP in accordance with the schedule in the proposed rules. This is an important step in reforming an auto insurance system plagued by inefficiencies, government control of forms and prices, and domination by a few large insurers.”The American Insurance Association (AIA) is also backing Bowler.“The current residual market system has become a roadblock to writing auto insurance in the Commonwealth,” said John Murphy, AIA vice president, Northeast Region. “The current system is unfair and benefits some insurers over others.”In his testimony, AIA’s Murphy will point out that the attorney general concluded months ago that the current system does not meet the statutory mandate for a fair and equitable sharing of residual market losses.“The rapid transition to a traditional assigned risk plan will be helpful to the broader auto insurance market. It will address current inequities in the system, which are a critical problem. It will also send an important positive signal that Massachusetts is serious about normalizing its auto insurance system,” added Murphy.But opponents, who include some of the biggest domestic auto insurers and elected officials, are expected to tell Bowler that what she wants to do is a substantial change that is unnecessary. They will argue that the switch to MAIP is unnecessary because past problems with certain insurers manipulating the system have been resolved, the industry has made inroads in combating fraud and drivers’ rates have been going down for several years.Under the plan being heard today, new business could be written in the MAIP as of April 1, 2007 and renewal business as of July 1, 2007. This would apply to all agents, including agents with voluntary markets as well as those without voluntary markets.Meanwhile, personnel at Commonwealth Auto Reinsurers, which runs the state’s high risk system, have been working to meet Bowler’s proposed implementation schedule. CAR President Ralph Iannaco has created several MAIP project teams to develop procedures and systems. CAR has added a “MAIP Information Section” to its web site (www.commauto.com).According to CAR’s MAIP update, the front-end producer system being developed will allow producers to access the MAIP by upload from an agency management system or directly on CAR’s website.
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