N.Y. Group Wants State to Post Comparative Auto Rates for Drivers

October 13, 2005

In an effort to reduce expenses for consumers, The New York Public Interest Research Group is calling on the state Insurance Department to compile rate information and post it online so state residents can more easily shop for policies and compare prices.

The Insurance Department divides the state into regions in its current posting of auto insurance rates. Differences in roads and traffic account for the wide differences in premiums seen between places such as rural Lewis County and Brooklyn.

But a study by NYPIRG found wide disparities in prices for identical coverage in the same regions. For example, in the Bronx, policy prices for a 35-year-old man ranged from $2,161 to $7,103 a year. That’s a gap of $4,942.

“If you just talk to companies and visit their Web sites, it’s very hard to compare apples to apples,” said NYPIRG’s Russ Haven. A state-run Web site “would give consumers one-stop shopping, help make sure rates are more competitive and help consumers get the best deal.”

The Insurance Department posts policy information on its Web site, but only offers policy rates for 20-, 35- and 69-year-olds. The department also provides information on discounts offered by coverage providers and tips on how to save money on insurance.

Chapin Fay, a spokesman for the state Insurance Department, said the ranges in prices for similar policies reflect the fact that different companies go after different markets. For example, he said, insurers that focus on high-risk drivers will charge more than those that target drivers with a spotless driving record.

He said the department provides a host of information on its Web site and is “always open to new ways and more efficient ways of educating customers.”

However, the department is reluctant to provide more specific price information. “We feel we have to stop short of advocating or seeming to advocate one company over another and take it as our job to simply educate customers,” Fay said.

The average premium in New York in 2003 was $1,313.28 a year, second only to New Jersey, according to numbers provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The national average was $939.19.

Fay said New York’s rates have come down since that data was reported. He said more than 20 insurance companies, including market share leaders Allstate, GEICO, and State Farm have cut their rates in New York over the past year by an average of 5 percent. That has saved consumers about $400 million, he said.

NYPIRG’s Blair Horner said he’ll take his group’s proposal to the Legislature if the Insurance Department doesn’t expand its Web site database.

While the Bronx had the highest premiums, the cheapest could be found in the Cortland area, where coverage for a 35-year-old man ranged from $636 to $1,536 a year.

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