Backers of Persistency Initiative Claim Signatures to Make 2012 Ballot

December 5, 2011

Backers of a persistency initiative in November said they have gathered the signatures they need to qualify it for the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot in California.

A campaign consultant for the backers of the campaign, the American Agents Alliance, said they have collected more than 800,000 signatures and are in the process of turning them in so officials can conduct a count and check the validity of submitted signatures. They need 504,760 valid voter signatures for the proposal to quality for the ballot.

Campaign Consultant Terry McHale believes the initiative will be popular with voters and be a clear front-runner over a competing initiative.

“I think it’s a populist issue that will probably be resolved earlier rather than later,” McHale said.

Supporters of the 2012 Auto Insurance Discount Act say the initiative’s new law “will allow consumers to receive a discount for their years of continuous automobile coverage regardless of the company where they seek insurance.”

The persistency initiative is similar to Proposition 17, which was on the California ballot in 2010. The Prop 17 campaign was sponsored largely by Mercury General Corp. It was opposed by most newspaper editorials and by Consumer Watchdog. The initiative was narrowly defeated 52 percent to 48 percent.

The initiative would essentially expand Prop 103. Prior to the passage of Prop 103 in 1988, insurance companies were not required to file rates for approval except for health and life.

A major provision of Prop 103 dealt with personal automobile insurance, requiring personal automobile insurance rates to be determined using the following factors in decreasing order of importance: insured’s driving safety record; number of miles driven annually by the insured; and number of years of driving experience the insured has had.

The proposition also prevented rates from being determined based on a person’s history of insurance.

The latest persistency initiative is being supported personally by Mercury’s chairman, George Joseph, but not by the insurer Mercury this time, according to Joseph, who called the initiative he’s backing “pro consumer” because it would allow portable persistency as opposed to the singular choice of loyalty programs that lock consumers into one carrier.

However, Santa Monica, Calif.-based consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, which is working to put a competing initiative on the same ballot, attacked Joseph and the measure.

“Mercury’s billionaire chairman is spending millions to try and pass an initiative that will give his company a new way to raise premiums on perfectly good drivers,” consumer advocate Brian Stedge said in a statement. “This ballot measure will affect millions by letting Mercury and other auto insurers surcharge students who went away for college, Californians who previously used mass-transit, seniors and the long-term unemployed.”

Consumer Watchdog argues the campaign repeals current protections against such a surcharge and is a repeat of Proposition 17.

McHale said he believes Consumer Watchdog’s competing initiative, which primarily focuses on health insurance, was amended to include broader language as a pre-emptive strike against the auto insurance discount Act because the consumer group is worried it has a good chance to pass.

“I think that’s the reason why Consumer Watchdog put that in their initiative,” McHale added. “It obviously deals with healthcare, but then it kind of throws in this poison pill.”

McHale said that most other states allow portable persistency, which he said is good for consumers and will increase competition for the insurance companies.

“Prices will go down for the consumer,” he added.

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Insurance Journal West December 5, 2011
December 5, 2011
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