Last summer George Floyd, many others, and the BLM movement reminded us that we haven’t made much progress against racism worldwide or locally over the last several hundred years, or maybe forever.
Corporations rushed to cloak themselves in noble statements about their support of Black Lives Matter and the value of racial justice. Others committed to work toward dismantling systemic racism and racial injustice.
Last July, Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler sent a letter to insurance executives offering them a chance to match their public statements with action. He wanted their support for legislation to end the use of credit scores to set insurance rates. Someone with a lower credit score is charged a higher premium. It turns out that although credit scores have no relation to driving records they are a proxy for race: black Americans on average have lower credit scores.
Widespread public support for SB5010
In January the Senate Business and Finance Committee held hearings on SB5010, a bill to prohibit use of credit scores. It was originally sponsored by Senator Mona Das (Kent), co-sponsored by the most progressive members of the Senate including Senator Joe Nguyen (West Seattle), Senator Bob Hasegawa (Beacon Hill), and Senator Marko Liias (Mukilteo), and enthusiastically backed by Governor Inslee and of course Kreidler.
Reporters from Medium, Crosscut and even Jesse Jones Consumer Advocate from Kiro 7 News covered the legislation, reporting on the potential positive impacts for racial justice and general fairness. The reporters pointed out that this legislation did more than rectify inequities in insurance rate differentials across varying races. It also would address gender differentials (hint: women in the same circumstances pay more than men) and end a burden on seniors whose credit scores fall when they’ve paid off their mortgages and no longer use credit in ways they did previously
SB5010 would protect all community members from having their insurance rates raised based on results from the pandemic, which are no fault of their own. We have learned that in the time of COVID-19, people of color disproportionately experience the most severe negative health and financial impacts. SB5010 would help address those racial inequities. With such strong evidence, widespread public support, and social momentum, the legislation seemed destined to succeed.
Similar legislation wildly effective in CA
Data from states that have implemented similar reforms shows that ending credit scoring lowers insurance rates. In 1988, California voters passed Proposition 103, similar to the original SB5010. A 2019 report by the Consumer Federation of America found that “since 1989, the average expenditure on auto insurance by Californians increased by only 12.5%, while the average increase across the country reached five times that: 61.1%.
As to the cost of liability coverage which is mandated by states, Californians paid 5.7% less in 2015 than they paid in 1989, compared to the nationwide average increase of 58.5%, according to the report. It goes on to say that
“over the past 30 years, no set of state rules has been as beneficial to its resident drivers as the consumer protections put in place by California voters in November 1988 through Auto Insurance Regulation… if every state market in the nation had been strengthened by California-style consumer protection, American drivers would have saved $60 billion in 2015 and nearly a trillion dollars over the past 30 years.”
Insurance lobbyists mount an attack
Insurance company lobbyists in our state are fighting SB5010 with the fervor you expect from hired guns. They challenge the evidence and the arguments and back their attacks with threats of rising insurance premiums for everyone. Soon, presuming they are operating by their usual playbook, they will be trumpeting the potential loss of jobs.
An unexpected and highly influential ally
Senator Mark Mullet (Issaquah) chairs the Senate Financial Institutions, Economic Development, & Trade Committee which oversees insurance legislation. He handed SB5010 to the lobbyists to change it from a bill that protected consumers into one that protects insurance companies.
In February, Insurance Commissioner Kreidler recommended that legislators vote against the bill, fearing it is beyond being possible to fix. “They took a bill that was there to help consumers, certainly addressed the issues of equity in our society, and essentially gutted it to the point where it protects the interests of the insurance industry at the expense of consumers,” said Kreidler.
Two-for-one? Paying back corporate donors, pay-back for opponents
Mullet is unpopular within his own party, mostly because of his stance against attempts to make our regressive state tax system even slightly more progressive. Inslee and many others endorsed his Democratic opponent labor-backed nurse Ingrid Anderson, who beat Mullet in the 2020 primary.
If not for a massive influx of corporate cash to his campaign (including maximum donations from national insurance carriers and insurance industry trade groups), Mullet would not have been reelected. Even with all that corporate cash, Mullet won by only 58 votes in the general election last November.
Presumably, that close election got Mullet’s attention. Now, by allowing the insurance industry to rewrite the legislation, he can repay some political debts—and pay back Governor Inslee’s defection. Never mind that Mullet’s commitment to the insurers maintains a racist practice in insurance rating, the elimination of which would serve all of us. Time to register the rest of those Issaquah voters.
WIPwatchers are volunteers who from time to time report on political activity.
Sources referenced in this article:
E-News Edition 79 (govdelivery.com) – Jan 15th
Washington State Legislature – SB 5010
Who pays more for car insurance – men or women? (kiro7.com) – Jesse Jones, Feb 7th