Car Insurance Rate Cut Faces Hard Road

Posted: January 20, 1988

HARRISBURG — The Casey administration is offering sweeping reforms in auto insurance that could save the average Philadelphia driver about $180 a year.

But don't spend it yet.

The proposals are just that - proposals. Some powerful groups with political clout, such as the trial lawyers and the insurance industry, are likely to work against them.

And, because the legislative process isn't always the shortest route between two points, any car owner cost savings could be far down the road and around several bends.

Nonetheless, stating that "the time has come," Gov. Casey yesterday proposed a series of measures to cut costs and increase the availability of auto insurance.

He said the proposals will be introduced as legislation next week.

Perhaps predictably, the Republican chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, Sen. Edwin G. Holl of Montgomery County, was less than enthusiastic.

He called the proposals "too general." He said some parts already have been passed by the Senate. And, he predicted, "a lot of water will go over the dam" before Casey's reforms are adopted.

Philadelphia is the main target. The city has the nation's highest auto rates, according to state Insurance Commissioner Constance Foster.

She said minimum rates are $842 a year, and an average policy costs $1,410. The difference is that minimum rates are what's required by law, and average rates include typically purchased options like collision and comprehensive coverage.

Casey, at a press conference with Foster and Transportation Secretary Howard Yerusalim, said rates in Philadelphia have gone up 35 percent in the last two years.

He said unless his plan becomes law, costs will continue to rise 11 percent per year for the next five years. He called the rates "out of control."

If the plan is adopted, rates in Philadelphia could be cut 21 percent, by $177 for minimum coverage and $179 for average policies, according to administration estimates.

The Casey proposal would:

* Mandate 10 percent rate cuts through creation of a $10,000 liability threshold under which accident victims would need at least $10,000 in medical bills or serious disability before being able to bring a lawsuit. Reducing claims would reduce costs, the administration said.

* Create an insurance pool, and abolish the so-called "assigned risk plan," to allow anyone to buy insurance from any company. Many people cannot buy insurance in Philadelphia at present.

* Those under the "assigned risk plan" in Philadelphia, generally people living or working in poorer areas of the city or people who have had accidents, pay an average premium of $2,400 a year. Many pay much higher rates.

* Abolish the controversial CAT fund, which pays for extraordinary medical costs associated with auto accidents, but which is in debt, and force insurance companies to provide such coverage as part of the minimum insurance package. Currently drivers pay $8 a year to the state for the fund.

* Increase fines and penalties for uninsured motorists, including license and registration suspensions and revocations, $200-a-month fines for driving without insurance and another $200 fine for a driver caught without insurance in an accident. The fines would be split with local governments as an incentive.

* Force the insurance industry to establish its own anti-fraud information exchange.

* Require more financial and claims data from insurance companies seeking state-approved rate increases.

After the hour-long press conference, Pennsylvania Insurance Federation President Henry Hager said the plan punishes the rest of the state because of Philadelphia's problems. He said the industry would oppose mandated rate cuts.

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