Mass. Largest Auto Insurer Dropped from High Risk Board

August 16, 2006

Massachusett’s largest, locally-based auto insurer, which has frequently locked horns with the Romney administration, has been dropped from the board that oversees how high-risk drivers are apportioned among companies.

Commerce Insurance of Webster, which covers almost a third of Massachusetts drivers, was told Monday its representative would not be reappointed, and a Commerce agent also was replaced on the board. Commerce had held a seat on the board since 1976.

A spokeswoman for Insurance Commissioner Julianne M. Bowler said an official of Illinois-based Encompass Insurance was chosen as part of a longstanding effort to rotate seats on the board, “so no one company has an ability to make a decision-making bloc on the board.”

The spokeswoman, Nicole St. Peter also told The Boston Globe that Bowler told her no one from Commerce had applied for the seat.

James Ermilio, senior vice president and legal counsel at Commerce, told the Globe the company sent two letters and a fax to Bowler in April seeking the appointment of David Cochran, the company’s senior vice president for underwriting, and followed up with phone calls to be sure the letters were received.

Ermilio blamed the decision on Gov. Mitt Romney’s national political aspirations, and said the state is replacing local companies on the board with national carriers. “That’s a bad economic decision for Massachusetts,” Ermilio told the Globe.

Commerce executives and directors supported Romney’s Democratic opponent in 2002, and the company later opposed the governor’s plan to overhaul the state’s insurance system. Commerce also successfully challenged in court Bowler’s order to create a new plan for distributing high-risk drivers among insurance companies. Bowler has appealed.

The board has representatives of seven companies and six agents. Only one of the company seats is now held by a local company, Safety Insurance of Boston. A representative of Norfolk & Dedham Group in Dedham was named to one of the company slots, but left that company after being appointed, so the seat is in limbo.

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