Just Sayin’ Blog – A Matter of Self-Interest or Consumer Choice

Dominos

 

Last June 3, 2013 Dannel Malloy, Governor of the State of Connecticut signed a bill that was passed by Connecticut’s House and Senate the previous month into law. This link to the summary of the act that was first introduced in the Insurance and Real Estate Committee of the Connecticut House states,

“The act requires that a glass claims representative for an insurance company or its third-party claims administrator, in the initial contact with an insured about automotive glass repair services or glass products, tell the insured something substantially similar to: “You have the right to choose a licensed glass shop where the damage to your motor vehicle will be repaired. If you have a preference, please let us know. ” By law, appraisals and estimates for physical damage claims written on behalf of insurers must have a written notice telling the insured that he or she has the right to choose the shop where the damage will be repaired (CGS § 38a-354).”

This law seems to be a reasonable approach to provide and ensure consumer choice to the residents of Connecticut.

As it appears on the State of Connecticut’s General Assembly bill tracking web site the law – Public Act Number 13-67 – states,

 “AN ACT CONCERNING AUTOMOTIVE GLASS WORK.

To require an insurance company doing business in this state, or agent, adjuster or third-party claims administrator for such company to provide additional disclosures to an insured regarding such insured’s right to choose a licensed repair shop or glass shop where such insured’s motor vehicle physical damage or automotive glass work will be performed.”

Again, this language also seems to be a reasonable expectation for residents of the state. Everyone believes that consumer choice is a good thing right?

The signing of the law was reported by number of industry publications (glassBYTEs.com, Autobody News, Automotive Fleet) due to the dramatic effect that it would have when fully enforced on insurance companies claims management programs, as well as automotive glass repair and replacement (AGRR) industry players (Harmon Solutions Group, NCS/Netcost Claim Services, TeleGlass/Strategic Claims Services, Gerber National Glass Services, PGW Lynx Services, Safelite Solutions)  that provide network and/or Third Party Administrator (TPA) services to the insurance industry. AGRR networks and/or TPA’s tend to steer business to either company owned stores and/or to affiliated network repair or glass shops that conform to the pricing or service requirements of the network and/or TPA. That has been a long standing business practice of networks and TPA’s and it’s not hard to understand the financial benefit to these companies to continue doing so. The passing and subsequent enforcement of this law requires a pivot away from the long-standing AGRR industry practice of placing the decision of which company provides the repair or replacement into the hands of the consumer needing service and out of the hands of a network and/or TPA that has always been heavily involved in the decision. This also seems to be a positive for consumer choice. Again, everyone believes that consumer choice is a good thing right?

In order to protect its network and TPA business Safelite Group, Inc. and Safelite Solutions LLC (the Plaintiffs-Appellants) have gone to court against GEORGE JEPSEN, in his official capacity as Attorney General for the State of Connecticut and THOMAS LEONARDI, in his official capacity as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Insurance Department (the Defendants-Apelles) in hopes of overturning the law. The law clearly prohibits the steering of Connecticut consumers to specific repair shops by TPA’s and/or auto damage appraisers so one can understand the self-interest involved. Connecticut’s “Department of Consumer Protection” web page states that:

“Ensuring a Fair Marketplace and Safe Products and Services for Consumers”

The purpose of this government department is pretty obvious by its title. Public Act Number 13-67 protects the interests of consumers in the state and their “right to choose”; and the State of Connecticut unquestionably is within its rights to enact such a law, right?

If the State of Connecticut prevails in its defense of the constitutionality of Public Act Number 13-67 through the appeal process, as Safelite continues to fight to overturn the law, the future landscape of networks and/or TPA’s that provide AGRR services to consumers in the state will forever be changed. And if this law stands it will have an effect on the landscape of the AGRR industry in the entire United States. You can be sure that similar consumer protection bills will be introduced in state assembly’s’ across the country. Is that why Safelite is so strongly fighting this law duly enacted by the State of Connecticut?

If you visit the Safelite web site you will find that the company describes Safelite Solutions LLC as providing:

“….complete claims management solutions for the nation’s leading fleet and insurance companies.

The company currently serves as a third-party administrator of auto glass claims for more than 175 insurance and fleet companies, including 19 of the top 30 property and casualty insurance companies. Safelite® Solutions manages a network of approximately 9,000 affiliate providers and operates two national contact centers in Columbus, Ohio and one in Chandler, Arizona.”

The Connecticut law could serve to undermine a business practice that has existed in the AGRR industry since the late 1970’s. The genesis of call centers (a.k.a. a network or TPA) was when Joe Kellman, former owner of Globe Glass & Mirror, visited an auto glass call center facility in Bedford, England operated by Belron’s Autoglass and brought the idea back to the United States starting the U.S. Auto Glass Network. Since then, the impact, influence and control of consumer auto glass losses by networks and/or TPA’s operating in the AGRR industry has continued to grow each and every day. The networks and/or TPA’s obviously work hard to control and steer auto glass repairs and replacements to either company owned stores or to glass companies that agree to join and follow pricing arrangements that benefit the goals of the network and/or TPA. A business practice worth fighting for right?

The State of Connecticut is interested in protecting consumers in the state, who are in need of auto glass repairs or replacements, from being steered by a network and/or TPA. This law seems like a reasonable next step action in a state where those that are engaged in the AGRR industry are required to be licensed by the state (in my last blog I wrote about “Is it Time for Licensing?” in the AGRR industry). The Department of Consumer Protection oversees the licensing flat glass and automotive glass work.

We will have to wait for the appeal process to work its way through the courts to find out if this law stands, is amended or falls. But whether you believe that the law is a positive development for Connecticut consumers or you believe that the law violates free speech in commerce, the fight will continue as the stakes are too high. If the law passes through the appeal process and stands, it could be the tipping of the first domino and could be the beginning of big changes for the AGRR industry.

So where do you stand on Public Act Number 13-67? Are you on the side of consumer choice or on the side of the networks and/or TPA’s? Perhaps it depends on your own self interest.

Just sayin’.

 

Dominos

 

 

Associated Articles and Reference Material:

Zauderer’s Scope (page 589) https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/files/1566-keighley15upajconstl5392012pdf

http://www.autobodynews.com/news/regional-news/northeastern-news/item/7277-connecticut-governor-signs-anti-steering-bill-into-law.html

http://www.nldhlaw.com/content/uploads/2013/07/UpToSpeed_July2013A.pdf

http://www.glassbytes.com/2014/04/connecticut-officials-file-brief-in-support-of-anti-steering-law-in-appellate-court/

http://www.glassbytes.com/newsConnAutoGlassBillGoestoGov20130523

http://www.glassbytes.com/newsConnecticutSteeringPasses20130606

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/03192014SafeliteSecondCircuitBrief.pdf

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/04232014SupplementalIndex.pdf

http://www.glassbytes.com/documents/04232014JepsenBrief.pdf

http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=5072&which_year=2013

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  1. #1 by SAM KILLEBREW on April 29, 2014 - 6:54 pm

    Watching the Conn. case very closely as we plan to introduce a bill similar to theirs in Florida for next Session.

  2. #3 by JBob on April 29, 2014 - 10:43 pm

    The giant can see David standing on the horizon with a big rock in his sling. And the giant is nervous. Question is, will David (our industry) sling that big rock to fell the giant? If Sam’s Killebrew’s comment is any indication, there’s hope. If our history as an industry is the indicator I look to, perhaps not so much.

  3. #4 by Ron Moon on April 30, 2014 - 12:53 am

    If you get in an accident and need collision work done to your vehicle, would it bother you that the person answering the call to your insurance company owns a collision shop? That is exactly what is happening now in the glass industry. Besides, I thought we had laws against Monopolies in this country, yet look at Belron’s activity. No matter the wording, currently, the consumer’s benefit is the least concern when it comes to third party administration.

  4. #5 by Glasseye on April 30, 2014 - 11:31 am

    Much ado about nothing – even if they win – all that will happen ( as in the UK ) they will apply a ceiling amount if they use other than recommended supplier, which will in no way cover the true cost of replacement so the vehicle owner will have to pay the difference.

  1. Hobson’s Choice (a Free Choice or No Choice at All?) | davidrohlfingblog
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