Oregon Credit Scoring Measure Picks Up National Endorsement

September 20, 2006

An Oregon ballot measure that would ban using credit scoring to set insurance rates has picked up support from the nation’s largest consumer-protection advocacy group.

Norma Garcia, senior attorney for the Consumers Union, which is behind Consumer Reports magazine, called Measure 42 “the first ballot initiative of its kind anywhere in the nation” and said it “will go a long way to protect insurance consumers in Oregon.”

Garcia said she’s found many Oregon groups have been reluctant to speak up about the measure, though, because of the bill’s sponsor, Bill Sizemore.

He’s a Clackamas County-based activist who made his name in the 1990s by promoting initiatives aimed at limiting public services, cutting taxes and restricting unions’ political clout.

“Personalities have gotten involved,” Garcia told The Register Guard of Eugene.

Garcia said her organization sees the measure as a needed consumer protection against the use of individuals’ and businesses’ credit worthiness in determining how much they should pay for insurance, or if they are too risky to insure.

Pat McCormick, spokesman for the campaign to defeat Measure 42, which is backed by the insurance industry and other business-related groups, said he thinks Oregon consumer-advocacy groups have stayed on the sidelines in part because they’re more familiar with the specifics of Oregon’s consumer-protection laws.

State laws were revamped in 2003 to include limits on the use of credit scores in insurance. For instance, companies can’t cancel or refuse to renew an existing policy based on the holder’s credit score, although they can consider the information when evaluating applicants for new policies.

McCormick’s Oregonians Against Insurance Rate Increases argues that the measure’s passage would result in higher rates paid by most Oregonians. It contends that Oregonians with good credit would subsidize the rates of those with bad credit.

Only Sizemore and his biggest financial backer, Nevada millionaire Loren Parks, submitted Voters Pamphlet statements supporting Measure 42.

Groups supporting or considering supporting Measure 42, like Oregon Ecumenical Ministries or the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, said they were never approached by Sizemore about getting behind the measure.

They said it was unusual for a measure’s sponsor to go it alone, rather than work to build a coalition.

The anti-Measure 42 campaign has produced a television ad that asks and then answers the question, “Who’s behind Measure 42?” by featuring Sizemore’s image on an upside-down outline of the state and alluding to a $2.5 million racketeering judgment against him and a court injunction that bars him from raising or spending money for political purposes.

Garcia said she worried voters who hold Sizemore in low regard will share that suspicion. But she said the alignment of one of Oregon’s best known conservative activists with groups that don’t share his ideology suggests that the debate over using credit scores in setting insurance rates raises an important question.

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