State AG's Office wants Safeco data made public
Seattle Times Washington bureau
The state Attorney General's Office says information about Safeco Insurance and the impact of credit scoring on auto-insurance customers should be made public.
Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick, Safeco's CEO from 2001-05, promoted credit scoring as a money-saving tool to predict who is likely to file claims.
Safeco has asked Thurston County Superior Court to block the release of information gathered by the state Insurance Commissioner's Office for a 2003 study on the impact of credit scoring on the poor, minorities and divorced women.
The state Democratic Party requested the information.
Safeco said in court papers filed this week that the data contain trade secrets, is proprietary and involves personal details. The company also said it was promised confidentiality when it provided information for the study.
The AG's office, led by Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, rejected Safeco's arguments in a response brief. His office represents the insurance commissioner in legal disputes.
"Just as personal customer information has not been requested, neither has Safeco's proprietary, confidential, trade secret, or commercially sensitive information," the brief said.
"Safeco is not entitled to conceal its identity," it concluded.
A hearing on the records request is set for today.
Credit scoring uses customers' credit history to set insurance rates and coverage.
Democratic Party officials believe the information will identify Safeco as the unnamed company in the 2003 study that used credit scoring to cancel auto-insurance policies, including many held by good drivers.
McGavick is challenging Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell in this fall's election.
Many insurance companies use credit scoring to help predict risk, but Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, a Democrat, said Safeco was aggressive in its use.
Safeco stopped using credit scoring to cancel policies in 2001, though it uses the practice to help set insurance rates.
The Illinois state insurance commissioner complained about Safeco's use of credit scoring to Kreidler in 2001, and that year the Illinois Legislature restricted insurers' use of it.
In 2002, the Washington state Legislature passed a law to prevent insurers from using credit scoring to cancel insurance policies outright.
In Montana, state officials claimed that Safeco's use of credit scoring had caused steep increases in homeowners' insurance rates. In negotiations with Montana insurance regulators, Safeco agreed to lower rate increases in 2003.
Concerns about credit scoring by various insurance companies also led to legislation and regulatory actions in Alaska, Georgia, South Carolina, Oregon, Florida, California, Maryland and Oklahoma. Not all the proposals passed.
The 2003 Washington study doesn't name the three companies involved. It said "Firm 1" canceled policies based on credit scoring; the two other companies used credit scoring to raise rates.
Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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