Her Future’s Uncertain but Mass. Commissioner Keeps Busy

These are busy days for Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Julianne Bowler.

Within weeks, even days, Bowler is expected to release final plans for a new auto insurance assigned risk plan, decide on auto insurance rates for 2007 and complete a study involving the state’s mandatory health insurance plan.

She has also played a role in a major change in how U.S. regulators treat foreign reinsurers through her work with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The policy change was advanced during last week’s NAIC Winter Meeting.

The regulator, who was first appointed to the job in 2002 and has served under Republican administrations since then, is moving ahead on these issues, even though she’s operating under a cloud of uncertainty regarding her own future.

Will she be replaced by incoming Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, who assumes office Jan. 4?

“I haven’t had any communication,” said Bowler in a wide-ranging interview with Insurance Journal when asked if she has resigned or been asked to do so.

Would she stay on as commissioner if asked?

“It depends on what Governor-elect Patrick wants to do with the agency,” she said. “If it’s going to stay with its current business-like approach, then I’d have an interest. If it’s going to go back to the days of certain political interests controlling this agency, I’d have no interest in that.”

Bowler is prepared to implement the Massachusetts Assigned Insurance Plan, a new assigned risk plan for high risk auto insureds. After years of regulatory delays, including a court challenge, she is ready to sign off on final rules for the MAIP. Her decision could come any day.

The rate decision for private passenger auto must be announced by Dec. 15. Another rate cut is expected.

The two parties representing consumers have recommended that Massachusetts auto insurance rates be slashed. The State Rating Bureau, a unit of the Division of Insurance, is calling for a statewide average decrease of about 8.3 percent. Attorney General Tom Reilly has urged Bowler to cut rates as much as 18.2 percent cut, worth about $180 a year per car.

The two consumer filings follow one made by insurers themselves indicating a 3.7 percent cut is warranted. According to the industry’s Automobile Insurers Bureau of Massachusetts, its proposed reduction reflects a “substantial drop in insurance injury clams” and successful anti-fraud efforts.