The advocacy group Texas Watch on Thursday announced it had submitted an open records request to the Texas Department of Insurance over “prevailing rate” policy language.
“We filed this open records request with the Texas Department of Insurance to see the language auto insurers are using to limit the amount they pay for repairs,” Texas Watch announced on its blog. “Inadequate payments lead to corner cutting. Safety suffers. Insurance companies shouldn’t be able to threaten your family’s safety by writing policies that game the system.”
A letter by Texas Watch Executive Director Ware Wendell dated April 17 demands the past 10 years of policy-related records:
Please provide all documents, communications, and other public information within your possession pertaining to private passenger and commercial automobile policies and endorsements submitted for approval, approved, and/or disapproved by TDI within the last ten (10) years containing the terms “prevailing rate” or similar language. To be clear, we seek information about how insurers define the rate with which they will compensate facilities for repair work. We view adequate compensation as crucial to public safety because it supports investment in training, education, proper equipment, and the necessary time to make thorough and safe repairs to damaged vehicles.
Texas Government Code Chapter 552 compels their release, Wendell wrote.
“Please consult your records and note that the Office of the Attorney General ruled in our favor on a similar public information request submitted by our organization several years ago,” he wrote. “The policies and endorsements within your possession should be properly produced to the public under Chapter 552. They are open records.”
Other states have public records laws as well, and other collision repair and consumer trade groups might find value in pursuing similar requests.
“Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees,” Chapter 552 begins. “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy.”
Officials are to err on the side of “granting a request for information,” the chapter states.
Subchapter A of Insurance Code Chapter 2301 on insurance policies states that “Each filing made, and any supporting information filed, under this subchapter is open to public inspection as of the date of the filing.”
The subchapter states that it applies to auto insurance policy forms.
Texas Watch took up the cause of quality auto body repairs following attorney Todd Tracy’s summer 2017 announcement of Matthew and Marcia Seebachan’s lawsuit against John Eagle Collision. During the 2019 session, it worked with collision repairers on a bill requiring insurers to reimburse OEM repair procedures.
We asked Wendell about the organization prevailing rate effort, noting that it was more of a niche collision industry issue compared to vehicle safety.
“We see prevailing rate issues as safety-focused,” Wendell wrote in an email Monday. “They go to the heart of consumer safety. If repair facilities are deprived of adequate pay by insurers, it impacts investments in training and equipment. And it impacts how much time can be spent on doing the job the right way. Insurance companies shouldn’t be allowed to underpay qualified facilities. The Texas Insurance Commissioner can disapprove insurance policy forms that hurt the public, so we filed the open records request to see what language has already been approved.”
Texas Watch, July 18, 2019
Texas Watch, July 17, 2019
Featured image: An illustration of government public records. (andriano_cz/iStock)