Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

SIDESWIPED BY A WIDOWER'S PENALTY? PENNSYLVANIA INSURANCE COMMISSIONER SAYS TACTIC GOES AGAINST STATE'S POLICY [Corrected 02/ 24/16]

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

SIDESWIPED BY A WIDOWER'S PENALTY? PENNSYLVANIA INSURANCE COMMISSIONER SAYS TACTIC GOES AGAINST STATE'S POLICY [Corrected 02/ 24/16]

Article excerpt

After his wife of nearly 47 years passed away in March 2015, Robert Balas thought he was doing the right thing when he called his automobile insurance carrier to let the company know.

The 81-year-old Butler resident thought his insurance payments would drop since there would only be one driver on the policy.

Instead, he was unpleasantly surprised when his annual AAA insurance bill almost immediately jumped - from $1,166 to $1,258.

"I called the company to find out why they jacked up my car insurance rate, and the lady I talked to said, 'Now that you're a widower, you might go out bar-hopping and partying.' I told her I'm 81 years old and I'm not about to go chasing women and living wild."

Mr. Balas purchased the policy through Santa Ana, Calif.-based Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club. Company representatives did not respond to interview requests.

In September, Pennsylvania Insurance commissioner Teresa Miller issued a statement announcing she would not approve auto insurance rate filings that contain the so-called "widow's penalty," under which a widow or widower is charged a higher rate solely based on the change in his or her marital status.

"Gov. [Tom] Wolf and I remain committed to protecting consumers in Pennsylvania," Ms. Miller said at that time. "Raising auto premiums in this situation is unfair, and if the insurer cannot provide statistical support for including widows and widowers in the higher single rate category, I will not approve the rate change, and require the insurer to continue to use the lower rate."

Ms. Miller stated that her policy only applied to rate reviews going forward, and not to any previously approved filing that uses this type of rate calculation. Some companies have used a rating based on marital status.

But she encouraged consumers experiencing this type of rate increase to consider switching insurance carriers.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department couldn't specifically address Mr. Balas' case, but he suggested that the widower and others in the state who have experienced such problems contact the state Consumer Services Bureau in Harrisburg. …

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