According to reports from the AJC, Georgians have been clobbered by skyrocketing rate increases from auto insurance companies over the past few years. In fact, Georgia had the highest rate hikes in the nation in 2014.
From the AJC – Hudgens himself doesn’t even look at any proposed rate hikes unless they are above 10 percent, assigning Manders to decide if the majority of increases are fair.
“Those don’t come to my office,” he said. “When I became commissioner …. I said, ‘Steve, you can approve rates up to a 10 percent increase. If they are asking for more than 10 percent, I want you to bring them to my office.’
“If he had to bring every rate increase into my office, I wouldn’t be able to do what I am going to do today, and that is to go down to the ‘Big I’ (insurance agents) convention and then from there go straight to the industrial loan convention.”
The same day, the AJC detailed GA’s Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens’ campaign donors. The paper reported that Georgia insurers have “played a major role in bankrolling his campaigns over the years.”
“Who is Ralph Hudgens looking out for? Certainly not people who pay insurance premiums. We always thought that the reason to have an Insurance Commissioner was to protect working people from insurance companies. He should be the Insurance Commissioner, not the Commissioner for Insurance Companies.
“Families are suffering under the strain of an almost unregulated auto insurance industry and instead of finding solutions for this crisis, Hudgens spent the weekend hobnobbing at a convention with insurance insiders. When will the GOP make Georgia families a priority?” – Michael Smith, DPG Spokesperson
After years of stable premiums, Georgia’s biggest car insurance companies have been pummeling drivers with rate hikes over the past two years.
The increases are the largest in a decade for many of the companies, with some filing more than two rate hikes in a year. The result: Georgia led the nation in 2014 with the highest overall increase in personal auto insurance rates. The state ranked second overall in 2013.
… In 2008, lawmakers handed insurers the freedom to increase rates on some types of coverage without first getting state approval. Two years later, a state senator who backed that law was elected Georgia’s insurance commissioner after the reign of two commissioners who prided themselves on being stingy regulators when it came to auto insurance prices.
Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, a former chairman of the Georgia Senate Insurance Committee, calls his job “a balancing act.”
“I’m here to protect the consumers of the state of Georgia,” Hudgens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just before heading to an insurance agents’ convention at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation & Resort in Florida. “But in doing that, I am going to let free enterprise and competition play out.
… But Hudgens’ predecessor, John Oxendine, said the state has a role in making sure premiums for auto insurance — something all drivers are required to buy — don’t get out of control.
“You are either going to have a regulated market or an unregulated market,” Oxendine said. “I think insurance is a product where regulation is appropriate.”
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of rate requests by the state’s largest auto insurers found that big increases were extremely rare in the years just before the new law passed. Hudgens at first told the AJC that he rarely approved the full rate hikes requested by insurers. But the AJC’s review found just the opposite to be the case: His office almost always approves exactly the increases requested.
… How should Georgia drivers view the wave of rate hikes?
“They should be upset,” said J. Robert Hunter, the Consumer Federation of America’s Director of Insurance and former Texas insurance commissioner. “Obviously, the government is not protecting them.”
He said insurance commissioners should limit rate increases to once a year and carefully monitor filings to make sure companies are not price-gouging. Hunter said auto premiums are already unaffordable for many low-income Americans, making the work of regulators vital.
Hudgens said he “fell in love” with the business, and the industry reciprocated. When he decided to run for insurance commissioner in 2010, many in the industry were behind him.
“You had insurance agents all over this state and they knew who I was and what I believed,” Hudgens said. “So when somebody would ask who they should vote for in this crowd of candidates … the agents said, ‘I know Ralph Hudgens and I think he’d do a good job.’ ”
They did more than give him the thumbs up to friends. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of campaign records shows insurers and others in businesses directly or indirectly regulated by the commissioners’ office played a major role in bankrolling his campaigns over the years.
… Hudgens was the choice of many industry insiders to replace Oxendine. His campaigns have replicated his predecessor’s winning strategy. About two-thirds of the $2.1 million he raised to run for insurance commissioner in 2010 and for re-election last year came from people who work directly or indirectly — such as insurance industry lawyers or lobbyists — in industries that Hudgens’ office regulates or licenses.
For example, on June 10 of last year, when Hudgens was running for re-election, 24 State Farm executives, agents and staffers contributed more than $13,000 to Hudgens’ re-election campaign as the commissioner prepared to cruise to another term.
State Farm filed for a rate hike two days after Hudgens’ campaign got the checks, records show. Two State Farm companies raised rates 6.6 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively, after earlier raising rates in April.
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