HIGHTOWER: Hoggish Insurance Companies

Hogs tend to be ... well, hoggish. Even when a hog is already stuffed from being overfed, it still wants its trough to be filled-up.Let's check today's Hog Report to get an example.These squealers are insurance companies that've been getting fat at our expense. Years ago, auto thefts were on the rise all across America, and the auto insurers were demanding that state regulators raise the rates on your and my comprehensive auto policies to cover their losses. Insurance company lobbyists pointed-out that 80 percent of the payouts made under such insurance were due to thefts. Sure enough, our premiums were jacked-up.For the past several years, though, auto thefts are down -- way down. In New York City, for example, thefts have plunged by almost 60 percent since 1990. But have Aetna, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, State Farm, and Travelers lowered their rates on comprehensive insurance? Not by so much as a dime ... and rates have actually risen in some states."Oh ... Tut-tut," say the companies, "clearly you do not appreciate the complexities of rate-setting, taking into account such factors as differing environments, driving conditions, the propensity to file claims and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."As New York City's consumer affairs commissioner puts it, "companies want people to think this is a complicated issue, but it's not." Bingo! The issue actually is as simple as this: The insurance giants can hold-up the rates (and us!) because they can. Indeed, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- not exactly a fire-brand consumer activist -- blasted his state's insurance department as being a captive of the industry it's supposed to regulate.This is Jim Hightower saying ... To learn more about how the companies are ripping you off ... and what you can do about it, contact Consumers Union on 914-378-2000.Source: "Fewer auto thefts not leading to insurance cuts" by Merrill Goozner. "Chicago Tribune": July 6, 1997.

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