When the time comes to renew your auto and home insurance this year, your family could be one of thousands in Washington that will see hundreds of dollars in new premium costs — with no added benefits or protections.
Adding on to families’ economic burdens is often unwise. But to do so amid the ongoing hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic is downright cruel — and the blame sits squarely on the desk of state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.
Last spring, after the Legislature declined to pass a bill that Commissioner Kreidler requested to stop insurers from offering customers a discount for good credit, he issued an emergency order to ban those discounts himself.
As chair of the Senate Business, Financial Services & Trade Committee, I held a hearing on Commissioner Kreidler’s original bill. The beauty of the hearing process is that it often reveals ways to make bills better.
We were alarmed to learn at that hearing that Commissioner Kreidler’s proposed ban would actually cause massive insurance price hikes. To prevent that, Democrats and Republicans on the committee advanced a compromise inspired by the grading policy that K-12 schools adopted in 2020.
The compromise protected all Washington insurance customers against any credit-related price hikes. Those with good credit or whose credit rating improved could still receive discounts, while those whose credit rating decreased, for whatever reason, could not be punished with a corresponding price hike.
Unfortunately, Commissioner Kreidler, who has lobbied for decades to end good-credit discounts, rejected any compromise. He called for his amended bill to die and, once it did, issued his “emergency” order.
The result is exactly what we heard in the committee hearing. Despite the commissioner’s cliché attempt to shift blame to the insurance companies, thousands of Washington families that had not filed an insurance claim in decades, or even ever, are seeing huge price hikes.
Based on emails to my office from state residents, increases have ranged from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The American Property and Casualty Insurance Association estimates more than 1 million Washington drivers will see premium increases.
Some people’s rates did go down. From an actuarial basis, this is a financial transfer from people who file fewer claims to people who file more insurance claims.
Senior citizens have been among the hardest hit. For example, consider a Kirkland couple who contacted my office. Janet and Rick retired in 2016 and still live in the house they bought in 1984. They have not filed an insurance claim in all that time, but their yearly auto and home rates recently shot up $600 to $4,400.
Like many seniors, they live on fixed incomes. After a lifetime spent responsibly managing their finances, how can they be expected to afford these price hikes?
Insurance companies use credit scores to determine rates because they have seen a correlation between credit history and the likelihood that someone will make an insurance claim.
I have spent nearly a decade working to make sure that Washington insurance customers get the best prices for the most coverage. Like most insurance customers, I support insurance discounts. For instance, a good-student discount has nothing to do with causing accidents, but insurance companies give good-student discounts because these good students file fewer insurance claims. This is also true for credit score discounts. It makes no sense to eliminate the good-student discount just because some students get bad grades.
Everyone should have the chance to experience the benefits, beyond insurance prices, that good credit can bring. Those include better access to jobs, rental housing and homeownership, and financial security. The Legislature can and should do more to help everyone in Washington improve their credit scores.
But Commissioner Kreidler needs to help families now. I urge him to rescind his emergency order and work with the Legislature next session to pass the compromise legislation that my committee advanced to protect all Washingtonians from unaffordable insurance price hikes.