Let's lower auto insurance rates Md. drivers benefit: Taking the scams out of accident claims could save 15 percent.

March 08, 1996

THERE'S A SCAM going on that is costing the Maryland car driver big bucks. Yet few members of the General Assembly seem concerned. By doing nothing, they will be endorsing an unconscionable rip-off of state drivers by profit-hungry lawyers, doctors and insurance companies.

A gubernatorial commission studied this problem and discovered that:

The average driver in Virginia pays $200 less for car insurance than in Maryland.

Maryland has the highest rate of attorney involvement in auto claims in the U.S., though few claims are for serious injuries.

Double-dipping and triple-dipping for claims of alleged injuries are common.

Eliminating duplicative coverage and tightening the rules on how minor injuries (sprains, strains, etc.) are verified and reimbursed could save drivers, on average, 15 percent of their premiums.

The problem is worst in Baltimore City. "Runners," paid by lawyers to solicit accident victims, can make $3,000 a week -- and no one in the profession seems to care. The city has one of the highest rates in the country of nonverifiable "soft-tissue injuries" such as sprains and strains. And not so surprisingly, a stunning 93 percent of all personal injury protection (PIP) medical payments are for these kinds of injuries. This is scandalous.

Yet what are state legislators doing about it? Not much. They are so influenced by the powerful money lobbies -- the lawyers, doctors and insurance companies -- that they seem unwilling to act. The Glendening administration has packaged a reform plan aimed at eliminating this "gaming" of the system. It ought to be passed in some form. But don't count on it.

The vested interests don't want lawmakers to touch their money machine. They could get their way. That would be tragic. Every driver in the state would benefit from a crackdown on these excesses. Just giving drivers the right to fully waive their PIP coverage -- which duplicates first-party auto-insurance coverage -- would save a driver $181 in the city and up to $138 in surrounding counties.

Taking fraud and duplication out of auto insurance would be good for everyone -- except those engaged in this con game. It is time for lawmakers to do what is best for their constituents instead of kowtowing to the deep-pocket interests who pad their campaign war chests.

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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