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Mass. AG faults insurers’ use of data for rate hikes

Homes along the shore of Brant Rock in Marshfield were destroyed by the force of ocean waves during a January blizzard.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File

Attorney General Maura Healey has found that two of the state’s largest insurance companies won excessive and unwarranted rate increases of about 9 percent for homeowners policies by taking advantage of last winter’s record snowfall and other catastrophic weather in recent years.

Healey’s office analyzed the rate filings of Mapfre USA Corp. and Safety Insurance Co. and found that the insurers put too much emphasis on recent storms, ignoring longer-term trends that are traditionally used to calculate rates. In addition, according to Healey, the companies requested rates that would meet higher profit targets.

Healey’s analysis is not binding, but it will probably increase pressure on the state Division of Insurance to conduct more transparent and rigorous reviews of rate increases in the future, one state lawmaker said. The insurance commissioner has the power to rescind rates, but that has rarely, if ever, happened and would be unlikely.


Both Mapfre and Safety recently implemented average increases that amount to about $100 on the average state premium of $1,150. Healey’s analysis showed that Mapfre should have actually lowered rates this year while Safety’s increase should not have exceeded 3 percent.

“We do not believe it is fair for insurers to take advantage of the recent winter storms to simply increase their bottom line,” Glenn Kaplan, Healey’s chief of the insurance and financial services division, wrote to state Senator Michael J. Barrett, a Lexington Democrat and chairman of the Senate’s Post Audit and Oversight Committee.

Mapfre declined to comment. Safety did not return calls for comment.

Consumer groups have called for the division of insurance to hold formal hearings on the rate hikes. The Legislature is considering reforms that would require insurance regulators to make proposed rate increases public and give the attorney general a more formal role in reviewing rate requests.

Home insurance rate increases now become public only after they are finalized by the Division of Insurance.


State Insurance Commissioner Daniel R. Judson, who consented to these rate increases, declined to comment. A spokesman for the state Division of Insurance said Healey’s letter was not addressed to the agency and would not comment on its contents.

In a hearing in September, division officials defended their review of rates, saying it was thorough and aggressive. A spokeswoman for Governor Charlie Baker said the administration would review Healey’s findings and “believes in a transparent and accountable process for homeowners.”

After a record 110.6 inches of snow blanketed the area last winter, many homeowners saw premiums rise as companies tried to recoup an estimated $1 billion in losses sustained in Massachusetts from ice dams, roof damage, and interior water damage. But Healey’s office faulted Mapfre and Safety for changing how they calculated losses in this year’s requests.

In calculating past rates, Mapfre, the state’s largest commercial home insurer with 214,000 customers, looked at losses from catastrophes over 25 years. In seeking a rate increase this year, Mapfre shortened it to seven to 10 years.

That window allowed Mapfre to give more weight to unexpected losses in recent years, such as from tornadoes and a fall snowstorm in 2011. Safety is giving twice as much weight to the last five years of experience, according to Healey.

These methods can exaggerate the impact of recent losses and run counter to the standards of a national insurance industry rating organization that considers 50 years of experience, according to Healey. In addition, the insurers sought higher returns in their filings; Safety, for example, boosted its annual profit target to 15 percent from 12 percent, according to the attorney general’s office.


“Homeowner’s insurance rates should be fair and reasonable,” said Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey. A more transparent rate-setting process would, she said, “make insurance companies more accountable to their customers.”

John Murphy, executive director of the Massachusetts Insurance Federation, an industry group, said additional oversight is unnecessary and too many regulators reviewing rate increases would create confusion and discourage companies from offering coverage here.

“I feel totally comfortable and confident that the Division of Insurance put these companies through their paces,” Murphy said. “Insurers would think twice about operating in Massachusetts, if they have to respond to multiple regulators.”

Industry officials add that the market for home insurance in Massachusetts is competitive, and consumers unhappy with their rates can take their business to another company.

Homeowners have few options to dispute increases accepted by state regulators, said Paula Aschettino, an Eastham resident and chairwoman of Citizens for Homeowners Insurance Reform, who supports more hearings on rate requests.

“We need some consumer protection,” she said.

A spokesman of the Division of Insurance said the agency has held meetings around the state to hear from consumers and companies about homeowners insurance. One is scheduled in New Bedford Wednesday and another in Hyannis on Tuesday.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at Follow her on Twitter@fernandesglobe.