Business

Bill would allow more review of homeowners insurance rate increases

A Massachusetts lawmaker Monday submitted legislation that would give consumers more notice that their homeowners insurance premiums could be going up and allow the attorney general to hold hearings on proposed rate increases, proposals aimed at curbing the price spikes many state residents faced after last winter’s record snowfall.

Under the proposals filed by Senator Michael J. Barrett rate requests submitted to the state’s Division of Insurance would be immediately available to the public, instead of after the agency approves them, when consumers have little recourse to fight a price hike.

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“I want these rate increases discussed in an open forum,” said Barrett, a Lexington Democrat and chairman of the Senate’s Post Audit and Oversight Committee. “I don’t want these million-dollar propositions handled in private, where only industry is heard.”

Barrett would also allow the attorney general to have a more forceful role in rate increases through hearings. Attorney General Maura Healey was critical of the way home insurers justified rate increases after last winter’s snowfall, but had little power to intervene. A spokeswoman would only say that Healey welcomed “a more meaningful public process about rate increases before they go into effect.”

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The insurance commissioner is currently the only Massachusetts regulator who can call hearings on rate increase, but rarely does. Many insurance companies raised premiums recently, some as much as 10 percent, blaming catastrophic weather events such as heavy snowfall that led to claims costing more than $1 billion in Massachusetts alone.

Insurers have argued that additional regulatory oversight could make it confusing for companies and discourage some from offering coverage in Massachusetts.

A spokesman for the Division of Insurance said regulators have not seen Barrett’s proposal and could not comment. However, division officials have previously defended their oversight and said they try to ensure that increases are fair to consumers.

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Barrett’s proposal was included in separate legislation about public records access that is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate on Thursday.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.
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