Over the past two years, Georgia auto insurance rates have continued to increase exponentially, according to the AJC. Insurers are defending their high rates by blaming natural disasters such as tornadoes, hail, and even the "Snowmaggedon" of 2014. Insurance companies also cite an improving economy for the rate increase: The economy placed more commuters back on the roads, leading to more auto collisions and personal injury lawsuits.
In 2008, Georgia lawmakers gave insurance companies the freedom to increase their coverage rates, pending state approval. Two years later, a state senator who backed the law was elected to be Georgia's insurance commissioner--ending the era of heavy regulation.
According to the senator, Ralph Hudgens, being the insurance commissioner is a "balancing act." Before heading to an insurance agents' convention at a Florida resort, Mr. Hudgens told the AJC that he wanted to "protect consumers, while letting free enterprise and competition play out." Many believe that the lack of regulations leaves too much room for excessive rate increases.
John Oxendine, who served as state commissioner from 1994 to 2006, believes otherwise. Mr. Oxendine said the state has a role in making sure auto insurance premiums do not get out of control. Interestingly enough, in 2002 Mr. Oxendine was involved in an ethics case, in which he was accused of accepting campaign donations of over $120,000 from multiple insurance companies. In 2009, he immediately returned the funds pending a final legal opinion.
An investigation by AJC found that insurance rates seemed to jump after the new law was passed. Sen. Ralph Hudgens, who said that he typically approved the full rate hikes requested by insurance companies, was found to consistently approve exactly the increases requested. In fact, insurance companies may have higher influence in politics than ever before.
In 2014, Georgia's top 10 auto insurers had overall rate increases of 8.6 percent, the highest in the U.S. Previous rate increases were 4.9 percent in 2013 and a 5.5 percent increase in 2012. One major insurance company has implemented a series of rate hikes since 2012. The Consumer Federation of America's Director of Insurance and former Texas insurance commissioner J. Robert Hunter says, "Consumers should be upset about the rate hikes. Obviously, they are not being protected."