Stripped-down car-insurance 'reform' Meager gain: Vested interests triumph

change won't lower premiums for drivers.

March 29, 1996

THE GOVERNOR'S auto-insurance bill promised big changes and lower premiums for Maryland drivers. In some cases, the reductions would be quite large, as fraud and double-dipping are eliminated. But that was before vested interests, who profit from inflated car-insurance premiums, had their say before the General Assembly.

By the time they were finished, the bill had been picked clean. What remained was a shell of the original measure. It means that car drivers will continue to pay far more in insurance than they should.

That members of the General Assembly would permit such manipulation is appalling; that they would be willing partners in this emasculation of a sensible consumer-oriented measure is even more of an affront. They did the bidding of the doctors, insurers and lawyers anxious to keep car-insurance high because it is in their own economic interest.

Forgotten in this rush to please special interests was the reason for the governor's bill: insurance rates are artificially inflated by fraudulent claims, bloated medical costs and multiple payments for the same injury. Eliminate these excesses and premiums could come down by millions of dollars.

Though the governor had the courage to take on the special interests, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who had made a big deal of the exorbitant auto insurance rates for city drivers, never put his prestige on the line. His lack of enthusiasm effectively doomed any chance of generating additional legislative support.

All that's left of the original bill is a provision banning ambulance-chasing lawyers from sending "runners" to accident scenes to solicit clients. This unethical practice ought to be halted, but so much more could be done.

That's why it is incumbent upon Gov. Parris N. Glendening to doggedly pursue this issue. He should use the summer and fall to draft a more narrow measure to eliminate fraud and waste in auto-insurance claims, one that will be acceptable to legislators. And he should press Mayor Schmoke to do more than give the bill token support. Maryland car drivers were ill-served by their legislators this session. They ought to be held accountable for their inaction and given a redeeming second chance to lower the cost of car insurance for their constituents.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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