April 22, 2021

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Insurers told to stop using credit scores to set rates

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OLYMPIA — Insurers must stop using credit scores to set rates for home, auto and renter’s insurance policies under an emergency rule issued Tuesday by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

The rule would keep the prohibition in force until three years after the state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic is declared over, by the president or the governor — whichever is later.

Kreidler, a Democrat, has long argued that use of credit scores is discriminatory and results in people with low incomes and people of color paying more for coverage. With federal law preventing the reporting of certain negative credit information during the pandemic, he’s concerned inaccurate credit histories and unreliable credit scores are getting generated for consumers.

“I’m taking action because I recognize the great potential for harm from the unreliable use of credit reporting by the insurance industry,” Kreidler said in a statement. “The federal emergency declaration related to the pandemic will eventually end and leave many consumers vulnerable to harmful data used by insurers.”

Kreidler’s action comes two weeks after a bill he backed, to permanently ban credit-based insurance rate-setting, died in the state Senate.

Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, who opposed the outright prohibition, had refashioned that bill to allow use of credit scores but to prevent their use from leading to an increase in rates. The bill did not get a vote.

Mullet didn’t appreciate Kreidler’s move, which, at least for the near future, gets around the Legislature.

“The majority of people over the age of 50, of all races in all income brackets, would see their costs go up as a result of the insurance commissioner’s action,” Mullet said in a statement. “This is not constructive, it is not fair, and it is not going to help those who need relief from high insurance rates.”

Mullet, as he did in debating the legislation, questioned the data used to support the directive.

“All the data that I have seen, and I’ve been scrubbing this stuff for months, indicates that this type of action will not achieve the results I believe the commissioner hopes to achieve,” he said. He urged the commissioner to share information on which he’s based his directive, because “if that data is out there, I sure haven’t seen it.”

Kreidler countered that he and the senator “have seen the same data that shows without a doubt that people with lower incomes, communities of color and seniors have been harmed by insurers’ reliance on credit scoring.”

And Kreidler, as he did earlier this month, accused Mullet of rewriting the Senate bill to favor insurers’ interests. He “made it clear that his allegiance is to insurers and not the people of Washington state, particularly people who are struggling the most during a worldwide pandemic,” Kreidler said.

Insurers don’t like the rule, either.

“This approach circumvents the legislative process and enacts by fiat a ban on a tool that is saving a vast majority of consumers on their insurance products,” said Kenton Brine, president of the Northwest Insurance Council, whose members include the largest private insurers in the state.

Insurance companies contend the use of credit-based scoring reduces the cost of insurance for most consumers and prevents those considered lower risk from paying more to subsidize consumers considered higher risk.

Removing it will have “a negative impact on many people’s insurance rates,” he said.

The rule issued Tuesday will be in place for 120 days, at the end of which Kreidler intends to enact a permanent rule. Brine said it is too soon to know if insurers will try to block a permanent rule.

The prohibitions apply to new policies that take effect on or after June 20 and existing policies renewed on or after that date. Meanwhile, by May 6, each insurer must amend its current rating plans filed with the commissioner’s office for all insurance policies covered by the rule.

Representatives of senior and consumer advocacy organizations applauded Kreidler’s action.

“Your credit score has nothing to do with whether you are a responsible driver, renter or homeowner and shouldn’t impact how much you pay to insure your property,” said Chuck Bell, program director for advocacy for Consumer Reports, in a statement. “We hope the state Legislature will take action before this order expires to make the ban on credit scores permanent.”

Cathy MacCaul, advocacy director for AARP Washington, called it a “step in the right direction. This temporary ban will help those adversely impacted by the pandemic and provide a measure of relief as people get their feet back on solid ground.”

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