Mercury Insurance Submits Sigs to Raise Car Insurance Rates

Mercury Insurance is in the process of submitting its signatures to place a deceptive measure on the June or November ballot that would raise insurance premiums on California drivers. This is another one of those initiatives funded entirely by a self-serving company (all $4.5 million to the campaign come from Mercury) that will use its endless amount of money to try and trick voters into paying more for car insurance.

The measure would allow Mercury and every other insurer to penalize Californians who want car insurance but have had a lapse in coverage anytime in the past five years. The penalty, which would amount to hundreds of dollars, would be imposed whether or not the person was driving when they didn't have insurance.  (Can you even buy car insurance if you don't have a car?)

In the wake of this nasty recession, there are too many people who will face a major penalty when they try to get back on their feet and  into their car (and the insurance market), if this passes.  Some of the types of folks to face Mercury's car insurance surcharge are:

*A senior citizen who stops driving for several months after surgery would be penalized when she tries to restart insurance coverage.

*A soldier serving on base in the United States would be penalized when he returns to civilian life in California and needs auto insurance again.

*A family whose coverage was canceled after missing just one auto insurance payment would be penalized even if they tried to restart coverage immediately after they were canceled.

*Anyone who gives up driving for public transportation or to bike to work would be penalized when they need a car and insurance again.

As Iraq War veteran Jon Soltz of  said: “Penalizing troops with higher rates while in service to their country is beyond the pale. I don't understand why an insurance company should be allowed to charge service members higher auto insurance premiums just because they may have decided that they didn't need a car while living on base. There’s something wrong with an initiative on the ballot that says that it’s ok to surcharge our troops and I hope Californians feel the same way.”

When millions of Californians are penalized when they try to buy auto insurance, the number of uninsured motorists on California roads will go up and everyone’s premiums will increase as a result.

In pressing for this initiative, Mercury is launching a deceptive campaign meant to hide the proposal's inherent attack on families struggling in these tough times. When the California Court of Appeal invalidated a virtually identical 2003 Mercury-sponsored law, the Court, citing the Department of Insurance's senior actuary, ruled that Mercury's proposal “would result in a surcharge equal to a 40 percent increase in premium for…policyholders who do not qualify for the 'continuous insurance' discount.”

Mercury Insurance is the Sole Funder of Initiative but is Hiding Behind a Front Group.

The proposed initiative is solely funded by Mercury Insurance, California's third largest auto insurer, which has provided $4.5 million to the campaign to date. Mercury has set up a front group, Californians for Fair Auto Insurance Rates or CAL-FAIR, in an effort to ensure that the news media have no access to Mercury's CEO Gabe Tirador and its billionaire Chairman George Joseph. (Those two guys: not so worried about the economy or their car insurance premium!) Mercury's executives cannot honestly explain their initiative without acknowledging that millions of Californians will pay higher premiums if it passes, so they have set up a firewall to deflect any questions towards their public relations consultants.

Mercury execs are also afraid of being asked about their company's long history of lying to voters, regulators and the courts.  In fact, The CA Department of Insurance described Mercury  as an abusive anti-consumer company, in an official filing made in a Department action against the company earlier this year. The Department wrote:

Mercury's lengthy history of serious misconduct, and its attitude – contempt towards and/or abuse of its customers, the Commissioner, its competition, and the Superior Court – are all relevant to determining the penalty needed to best ensure the protection of the public from future violations and wrongdoing… Among Department [of Insurance] staff, consumer attorneys, and consumer victims of its bad faith, Mercury has a deserved reputation for abusing its customers and intentionally violating the law with arrogance and indifference.

A copy of the Department filing can be found here. (See page four, in particular.)

The Campaign for Consumer Rights, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization is working with consumer groups, seniors, unions and soldiers to oppose Mercury's deceptive initiative. Campaign for Consumer Rights is the campaign affiliate of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Consumer Watchdog.