Monday, February 8, 2010

Backer of Auto-Insurance Measure Has Ugly Record

By Robert Gammon
Mon, Feb 8, 2010 at 10:32 AM

Mercury Insurance Company, the sponsor of a June ballot measure that would allow auto insurers to charge higher rates to low-income drivers, appears to have engaged in numerous illegal and discriminatory practices over the years, according to a report by the state Department of Insurance obtained by the Chron. It’s not clear whether Mercury will face any penalties from its actions, but consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield told the newspaper that if voters approve Proposition 17, it will allow the insurance company to “legalize the kind of discriminatory surcharges that they were caught doing by investigators.”

The state investigation, which ran from the mid 1990s to 2004, revealed that Mercury apparently discriminated against people who had been in accidents caused by others, military personnel, artists, actors, dancers, and emergency vehicle drivers in violation of state law. The company, which has a long history of using campaign funds to coerce politicians into doing what it wants, also duped new customers by quoting discounts that it never provided and requested that its customers reveal their “national origin.”

Prop. 17 would overturn existing consumer protections and would allow Mercury and other insurers to charge higher rates to people who have allowed their auto insurance to lapse. The company is advertising the proposition as a way to give discounts to drivers who have maintained their insurance, but consumer experts agree that the measure would adversely impact low-income motorists, who let their insurance lapse because they lost their jobs or got in financial trouble. Attorney General Jerry Brown also greatly helped Mercury by not mentioning this fact in the official ballot summary for the June Election.

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