Racial disparities in auto insurance persist after reforms

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Despite reforms in 2019, new information shows that racial disparities in auto insurance still exist in Michigan.

Patrick Cooney, assistant director of policy impact and poverty solutions at the University of Michigan, led a study about Michigan’s car insurance problems that followed from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reform attempts.

“This latest study was essentially a look now at how rates have changed, both in Michigan and in Detroit,” Cooney said. “The 2019 reform law sought to reduce the use of nondriving factors by eliminating the use of zip codes in determining rates, by eliminating the use of credit scores, a lot of these factors that would end up having a racially discriminatory impact due to historic or persistent racial discrimination in a variety of other things around employment and housing and education.”

But he says the 2019 reform law left loopholes. His report found despite insurance rates dropping by nearly 20% from 2019 until 2020, racial disparities continue. Across Michigan, the average premium in 2019 for 37 zip codes with Black residents was $5,500, compared to $3,106 for the statewide average.

“You’re not going to quote-unquote solve poverty until you reduce the barriers for people to get ahead,” said Amanda Nothaft, the senior data and evaluation manager at poverty solutions at U of M.

She and her team used census data and a system called Zebra that looks at zip codes statewide to understand insurance pricing and found that insurance companies are using workarounds.

“Insurers could no longer use credit scores, but they can use insurance scores,” Cooney explained.

“I want the community to realize that there’s more that could be done,” Nothaft said.

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