California Personal Auto Filings: Avoiding the Pitfalls

Any companies with a personal auto program in California who haven’t submitted a rate or class plan filing within the last couple of years may be in for a surprise when they submit their next filing.

Personal auto filings have been coming under increased scrutiny by the California Department of Insurance (“the Department”) as the state has taken a stricter view of the existing personal auto regulations. This is likely in part due to the pressure from Consumer Groups to ensure that the premiums charged to consumers are fair and are not excessive.

Most notably, ProPublica published a report stating that poor and minority communities face significantly higher premiums than their counterparts in more affluent neighborhoods. Although the validity of the results has been questioned, the ProPublica report has brought this issue to the forefront, which has caused the Department to take a closer look at zip code rating. Other Consumer Groups have also raised concerns about other items in personal auto filings. All of this combined with the Department’s internal review has resulted in changes that will have a material impact on personal auto filings in California. Many companies are learning this the hard way by submitting California auto filings without taking into consideration the latest changes made by the Department.

Unfamiliarity with Changes Can Result in Undesirable Revisions

If your company is not aware of the latest requirements for California auto filings, you may be required to make significant, unexpected changes during the filing review process. These could include costly revisions such as reducing rate levels below proposed rate levels; reducing existing fees used with the program; revising rates charged by zip code without consideration of the competitor information; revising class plan factors to be consistent with the Department’s request; or paying for a consumer group’s intervention on the filing.

In order to make sure that possible changes required during the filing review will be in your company’s best interest, companies should review the pros and cons that could result from submitting a filing. 

Consumer Group Intervention

A review of California rate change filings shows that many companies file rate changes of +6.9%. This is due to the regulation stating that the commissioner must hold a rate hearing upon timely request by a Consumer Group for a rate change that exceeds +7% in a personal lines filing. However, filing a rate change less than +7% will not prevent a consumer group from intervening in the filing if they think the proposed rates are excessive or unfairly discriminatory, even if the filing is for a proposed rate decrease. Also, the commissioner at his discretion can decide that a rate hearing is necessary for any rate change including ones below +6.9%. That said, the Department does its best to mediate between all parties involved in the filing so that a rate hearing can be avoided. For rate increase filings at or above the +7% threshold, the Department and the Consumer Group must be satisfied with the support for the proposed rate change to avoid a rate hearing.

The following link contains a list by year of the filings that have been intervened on by consumer groups, along with the cost that was paid by the insurance company.

Beware of the Recent Change in the Filing Review Process

One of the biggest changes that has occurred is with the Frequency and Severity Band assignments by zip code. Even if you are not proposing changes to these class plan factors, the Department will require a review of them, which is likely to result in needed changes. This review will need to be done strictly in accordance with regulations, including the requirements for use of an alternative dataset for any zip codes that lack credibility. Companies should also be aware that the Department has been relying more heavily on the indications from the sequential analysis and the proposed factors need to be consistent with the indications for all class plan factors, including class plan factors where the company may not have been intending to propose any changes.

Companies should also take note of the following items regarding the review of rate filings:

  • All rate changes must be within the range of allowable changes for each coverage;
  • Calendar year or calendar quarter data derived from the development triangles should be consistent with the corresponding data in the trend exhibits or it will be questioned by the Department; and
  • Fee amounts charged to policyholders may need to be supported based on underlying expenses even if no changes are proposed, particularly if the fees are high.

The above are just some of the most important items when it comes to a California personal auto rate and class plan filing. As always, it is important to stay abreast of the latest changes in the California auto filings review process.

What You Don’t Know Might Hurt You

In complex jurisdictions like California, it’s smart to partner with experts who can provide insurance filing support that helps you carefully navigate the regulatory environment. For example, the Department regulations have been amended to reflect the new 21% federal corporate income tax rate, effectively lowering the maximum allowable rates for all P&C lines subject to Proposition 103. Excessive rates may not remain in effect under California regulations. If your company needs to take a rate decrease, you should be filing one. The Department does annual reviews of the financial results of all companies by line of business and has required companies to submit filings supporting that their filed rates are not excessive.

To assist you with personal auto programs and avoid the pitfalls of filing in California, work with experienced consulting actuaries who have a complete understanding of the Department’s latest positions and whose insurance filings support service includes an active dialog with the Department. Look for partners who have assisted other insurance companies in achieving the best possible results on filings that have been intervened on by consumers groups.

Knowing what to expect in California can put you ahead of the game. Perr&Knight can help.