Saturday Mailbox


February 12, 2005

Md. must end discrimination in car insurance

I am a Baltimore resident who was horrified when my automobile insurance bill doubled from $580 per year to $1,200 when I moved from Howard County to Baltimore City two years ago ("City drivers in a squeeze," Feb. 6).

My husband and I have excellent driving records but pay a total of nearly $3,000 per year for automobile insurance.

The practice of rating drivers based on their ZIP code is thoroughly unethical and unfair and should be illegal. It is illegal for banks to promote discriminatory lending practices based on ZIP codes (this is called redlining). Why is it legal for insurance companies to use ZIP codes to discriminate?

Whether they are city residents or not, good drivers should not be penalized for the unscrupulous actions of others. And the economic impact of automobile insurance rates cannot be understated. In my household alone, if we had an extra $1,500 per year because of reduced insurance rates, that money would be spent on an array of revenue-producing activities here in Maryland.

We could spend money on city cultural events, patronize local art galleries, restaurants and shops, or give more to Maryland charities. We could also invest the money with a local investment company, go on a Maryland vacation or better our neighborhood by making home improvements.

If you multiplied this one household by the number of households with good drivers who are being overcharged in Maryland, imagine the impact.

It is time for Maryland policy-makers to follow the progressive thinking of the states mentioned in The Sun's article and initiate action to end unfair automobile insurance practices for the citizens of Maryland.

Tracy Lambros


Insurance industry uses its data fairly

A couple of thoughts struck me as I read about the Abell Foundation's "Actuarial Discrimination" report ("City drivers in a squeeze," Feb. 6)

First, the title of the report seems to me to be redundant. Actuarial data, to have relevance, are about groups of data that can be differentiated from other groups of data.

Except for those areas where society has deemed such differentiation illegal, discrimination is not a bad word. Indeed, the concept is the basis for the insurance industry, which helps spread out risks -- something which is vital for a free, growing, viable economy.

The article mentions that the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund credits Baltimore City drivers 15 percent, spreading that cost among other MAIF drivers.

Let's call that what it is -- a tax. Taxes are not necessarily bad things, but I contend that this "credit" should not be hidden in a "little-known agreement among state officials."

This is a public policy issue. It should be well-known, agreed to, voted upon.

The article suggests that territorial boundaries are arbitrary and unfair. And there is always contention "at the line" when lines are drawn. However, one's car is more likely to be stolen on certain city corners than in other areas. To deny that fact is to ignore proven, actuarial data that legally discriminate the chance of loss in one area from that in another area.

People who live in high-cost-rated areas have a choice -- they can move to lower-cost areas. This choice may be affected by societal, economic, educational, familial or health reasons. All of these are valid concerns, but they are certainly not insurance issues

And to imply that the insurance industry is treating a certain class or race of people unfairly is unfounded.

As an insurance professional with 22 years' experience as an underwriter and independent broker, I can assure you that the insurance companies see one color -- green.

If insurance professionals can make money writing coverage at lower rates in a certain area, they will rush to do so like bees to honey.

Michael A. Papa


The writer is vice president of an insurance company.

Disclose information on abuse of prisoners

With nearly every week bringing new revelations of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and other locations where the United States is holding detainees, it seems increasingly unlikely that these are all isolated incidents or the acts of rogue soldiers, as the Bush administration has claimed ("Confusion reigned inside Iraqi prison, Army major testifies," Feb. 3).

FBI agents working at Guantanamo Bay have cited several instances of abuse at that facility, and the use of sexually provocative interrogation measures at Guantanamo Bay seems to support Pfc. Lynndie R. England's claim that at least some of the Abu Ghraib abuses occurred at the order of superiors ("Videotapes show detainees being punched, stripped," Feb. 3).

The kinds of interrogations carried out on these detainees, who have not had any real legal recourse, are the type of abuse that Americans prefer to think of as the tactics of the "enemy," not of our neighbors, relatives and co-workers serving in the military.

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