I went online last week to get a car insurance quote from Mercury Insurance. I went through the process twice, once listing my occupation as engineer.
All the rest of the information was the same — my age, address, driving record, car make — but as an engineer, I was given a lower monthly rate: $247.88 instead of $262.88 and a potential yearly savings of $179.89.
My price comparison experiment was inspired by a petition filed July 18 by Consumer Watchdoga taxpayer and consumer advocacy group, protesting Mercury Insurance Co.’s request to the California Department of Insurance to bump up its auto rates.
But a major factor that underlies Consumer Watchdog’s demand for a public hearing on the proposal is its claim that Mercury’s rates are not only “excessive” but “unfairly discriminatory.”
“It’s an issue that we have been fighting for many years to rectify in California where insurance companies have been illegally surcharging folks based on arbitrary job categories,” Consumer Watchdog Executive Director Carmen Balber told me.
In 1988, Californians passed Proposition 103, which required insurance rates to be based primarily on standards like driver safety and experience rather than arbitrary discriminatory characteristics, like employment status, credit score, place of residence or gender. Rate increases and other rate-setting factors now have to be approved by the Department of Insurance.
The department has never approved using education or occupation as a deciding metric per se, but insurance companies have found a loophole by providing discounts for what they call “affinity groups.”
Depending on the company, these discount categories include employees