Since the Louisiana Insurance Rating Commission was abolished at the end of 2007, those interested in what’s happening with insurance rates have been reduced to using a bare bones search engine on the state insurance department’s Web site.
Previously, anyone could pull the commission’s monthly agenda from the Internet and watch the proceedings live over the Web.
Charles Hansberry, director of the insurance rating division, said the department made a few tweaks to the filing search engine before the end of last year.
The agency would like to move the filing search engine to a more prominent place on the department’s Web site and add some additional categories for information, Hansberry said.
Also under consideration is a weekly newsletter that translates jargon into plain English for those who are interested in following rate changes in the state.
Hansberry said the department is open to suggestions.
“Unless you deal with insurance on a daily basis, you’re not going to understand what’s taking place, so we’re trying to come up with more consumer-friendly ways to represent the information,” Hansberry said.
On Jan. 1, the department switched to a system where it will review and approve or reject rate-change requests filed by insurance companies. The proposed new rates will automatically be approved in 45 days if the department does not act or raise questions for further discussion.
Amy Bach, executive director of the California advocacy group United Policyholders, said the department should have come up with a better way to keep the public informed as soon as it knew the rating commission would be abolished.
“They’re either bumbling or they’re intentionally excluding the public. You can’t replace the system that was designed to oversee insurance rate filings and not take any steps to allow public input,” she said. “This new process seems to be a complete black box, whether by design or by omission.”
Bach said the department should do a weekly or monthly newsletter that explains things in plain English, but the outreach should start at a much more basic level.
“They have to explain the new process. If I’m an activist citizen, and I hear that Allstate is going to be raising their rates, how do I, concerned citizen, see what they have filed? Where do I go? How much does it cost to make copies? Just the simple information for those who want to participate.”
Greater transparency of rate information leads to lower insurance rates and greater competition because it gives more people the ability to scrutinize filings, Bach said.
Bob Hunter, an actuary who is director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, said the rate filings have lots of information that would be useful to the public.
“These are rates that are going to apply to people. Why not make it open to the people?” Hunter said.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, www.timespicayune.com
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