New report rates top automobile insurers in Maryland

State agency uses complaint-premium ratio for findings

Consumer information

July 07, 2000|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Insurance Administration unveiled a new report yesterday on complaints against top auto insurers to help consumers shop for coverage.

Called the complaint ratio report, it scores the top 20 insurers doing business in Maryland, based on the number of complaints against each in relation to the amount of premiums they write in the state.

A score above 1.0, for instance, means that the percentage of complaints against an insurer is higher than its percentage of premiums, the agency said.

The report features two indexes, one based on all complaints against an insurer and the other using justified complaints, or those cases where the state agency told the company to address a consumer's concern.

The state agency receives about 10,000 complaints annually, and about 20 percent are deemed justified. Most complaints involve premium increases, coverage reductions, refusals to insure, cancellations and nonrenewals, the agency said.

Spokeswoman Elana Mezile suggested that consumers look at the justified index, available on the Web at www.mdinsurance.state. The index is just one tool to use when shopping for insurance, she added.

Companies with the five highest justified complaint scores based on 1998 data are Agency Insurance Company of Md. Inc. (2.64), Ohio Casualty Group (1.60), Hartford Fire & Casualty Group (1.58), Prudential of America (1.44) and Safeco Insurance Group (1.28).

Agency Insurance declined to comment. A Safeco spokesman said the results were skewed because the company did little business in Maryland at the time. He said Safeco expects to improve its rating.

The other companies could not be reached yesterday.

Those with the five lowest justified complaint scores are Geico-owner Berkshire Hathaway(0.48), State Farm (0.59), Consolidated International Insurance Group (0.67), Progressive Group (0.74) and Allstate Insurance Group (0.75).

Bill Furr, underwriting manager for Amica Mutual Group in Catonsville, said the all-complaints index provides a distorted picture, because agencies are required to send consumers appeal forms if their rates go up after an accident.

Amica had 11 justified complaints and scored 1.41 on that index. Furr said his company nationwide has one of the lowest complaint ratios among insurers.

In addition to the complaint report, the agency has published a consumer guide for buying insurance. The guide is available at Motor Vehicle Administration main offices, Giant Food stores, local libraries and the Maryland Comptroller taxpayer service offices.

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