Insurance industry officials said yesterday they are confident that if the General Assembly follows the advice of a gubernatorial task force, Baltimore drivers soon will be paying substantially less for car insurance.
Among the recommendations of the 17-member commission: Reduce certain types of mandatory coverage, ban the so-called "runners" who try to hook up accident victims with lawyers, prohibit lawyers from mailing solicitations to accident victims for 30 days after a crash, and deny victims multiple recoveries for the same injury.
"If enacted in a useful form the recommendations should reduce insurance costs in Baltimore and across the state," said David F. Snyder, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association.
The commission's preliminary findings are expected to land on Gov. Parris N. Glendening's desk tomorrow. Chairman David M. Funk said the recommendations could lower city premiums by an estimated 20 percent and he hopes to have confirmation of that figure shortly.
An independent actuary will determine the savings from the two dozen or so recommendations, he said. The results will be incorporated in the final report in November.
"We have to see what the actuary says, but this is the best we could do," said Mr. Funk, a city resident and lawyer in the firm of Shapiro & Olander. "There are a lot of folks with an economic interest involved in this. We think we've found the moral high ground."
Mr. Glendening and the state legislature created the commission early this year to aid Baltimore drivers who often pay two or three times more in premiums than drivers elsewhere in the state. Expensive car insurance has been blamed for helping drive the middle class out of the city.
Representatives of the insurance industry agreed that the commission's recommendations could produce some savings, but some doubted they would save as much as 20 percent for most drivers. They also expressed disappointment that the group did not endorse no-fault insurance, a measure that would have substantially reduced attorney involvement in claims.
"I see positives in many of these recommendations," said Jeffrey D. Rouch, a lobbyist for Nationwide Insurance. "But many of them will face a tough, uphill fight in the legislature. They hit some of the strongest lobbying interests, plaintiffs lawyers and the medical community."
Not all commission members were pleased with the results. Philip O. Foard, a Towson lawyer and commission member, said the recommendations squeeze victims and lawyers, but not the "fat" insurance industry. "To me, this is all going in the wrong direction," said Mr. Foard. "We're giving the insurance industry their wish list."
Shelli Craver, director of Citizen Action of Maryland, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, said she also opposed the findings because they assume too much of the problem is caused by "greedy" accident victims.
"We never looked at industry practices," she said.
Mr. Funk acknowledged that the recommendations do not "focus" on the industry. That was not necessary, he said, since a law passed by the General Assembly last spring already is forcing companies to more aggressively market in the city.
"Many of us believe the next piece of legislation needs to focus somewhere besides the insurance industry," Mr. Funk said.
The commission's recommendations fall into six major categories:
* Eliminate multiple recoveries for the same injury. Often referred to as the "collateral source rule," this proposal would prevent accident victims who have health or disability insurance, for instance, from receiving and pocketing the same benefits from other insurance sources.
* Reduce lawyer involvement in injury claims. The most controversial component would permit insurance companies to offer personal injury protection or PIP with a managed care option. PIP benefits never have included that restriction. Another controversial element: health care providers can't charge more than Medicare rates for soft-tissue injuries (strains and sprains).
* Reduce insurance fraud. The industry would pay for an accident reporting unit in the city police department. Its civilian members would write up reports on minor accidents -- as police once did before more serious crime curtailed the practice. The commission also wants to permit insurers to deny benefits to anyone who seriously misrepresents himself in his insurance application.
* Reduce mandatory coverage. The proposal would allow drivers to fully waive PIP, as well as uninsured motorist coverage. Critics have charged that both are unnecessary and duplicative.
* Study territorial rating. The commission would direct the Maryland Insurance Administration to look into whether the industry has discriminated against predominantly black communities in the way they set territories. Insurance industry representatives said the proposal is unwarranted.
* Reduce accident costs. Among other things, the proposal would ban radar detectors and allow police officers to use cameras to catch red-light violations. All have been rejected by the legislature in the past.