Auto insurance industry attempts to quash disclosure of windfall profits during COVID-19 pandemic

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG Education Fund

The auto insurance industry is attempting to block the publication of data documenting its windfall profits in Illinois during the early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the risks associated with driving plummeted but auto insurers did not lower premiums or offer rebates in proportion to the reduction in risk. In a letter sent last week to the Illinois Department of Insurance, three auto insurance associations challenged the Department’s March call for information documenting insurer profits, losses, and refunds given to consumers between 2019 and 2021. Consumer advocates estimate that auto insurers overcharged Illinois drivers by about $900 million in 2020.

“Not only did auto insurers overcharge Illinois drivers early in the pandemic, they are now trying to keep us in the dark about just how much they overcharged us,” said Illinois PIRG Education Fund Director Abe Scarr. “We encourage the Department of Insurance to take all necessary steps to collect and make this important information public.”

While insurers are now aggressively raising rates, new data show that  Illinois’ major insurance companies rewarded top executives with generous bonuses over the  years in question.  For example, according to filings with the Nebraska Department of Insurance, while Bloomington-basd State Farm paid its Chief Executive Michael Tipsfrd a salary that ranged between $1.94 and $2.15 million in 2019 through 2021, the company dramatically raised the bonuses paid to Tipsord from $8.3 million in 2019 to $18.1 million in 2020 and $22.4 million in 2021.

“I am appalled that these companies overcharged families sheltering at home, refused to report their profits, and have simultaneously raised their personal compensation so exorbitantly,” said Illinois state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, who recruited 15 of her state Senate colleagues to join consumer advocates in asking the Illinois Department of Insurance to call for information from insurers. Sen. Collins also mentioned an unfair aspect of the problem: “Auto insurers indiscriminately charge higher rates in Black communities like those I represent.” 

“This story reflects the pernicious racial wealth gap in action,” said Amy Eisenstein, Coalition Manager, Financial Inclusion for All Illinois (Heartland Alliance). “Auto insurers use non-driving factors to determine rates, unfairly discriminating against low-and moderate-income drivers in communities of color. Meanwhile, corporate executives have not responded to a simple data call with transparency – rather, they have responded by selfishly bumping their own salaries. Illinoisans deserve to know what they are owed.” 

Making matters worse, auto insurers have been increasing rates rapidly in 2022. State Farm recently raised rates by 3%, only two weeks after a 5% increase. In January, Allstate hiked rates by 12%. Illinois regulators have no power to block or modify insurance rate hikes, as regulators in other states do.

The California, New Mexico, and Washington Departments of Insurance have all issued similar data calls to insurance companies.