Ex-Massachusetts commissioner praised for auto deregulation efforts


As she exits her position as Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner, Nonnie Burnes is drawing praise from an insurance trade group and a free-market think tank for her work to end state-set auto rating for auto insurance.

Nonnie Burnes

Nonnie Burnes

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced Sept. 8 that Burnes, who led the department since February 2007, would step down to become a senior fellow at Northeastern University, where she received her law degree.

Patrick said Burnes is “a great friend” and was “a great insurance commissioner” in a statement.

“She brought fresh insight and real courage to one of the central successes of this administration – the introduction of balanced, consumer-oriented competition to our auto insurance market,” Patrick said. “Thanks to her steady leadership, good drivers everywhere in the Commonwealth have lower rates and more choices, and many new companies have entered the state.”

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies echoed Patrick’s sentiments about Burnes’ work to adopt a competitive rating system.

“Her bold decision to depart, after three decades of contrary precedent, from state-set rating in auto insurance and adopt a competitive rating system showed fortitude and independence,” said Paul Tetrault, Northeast state affairs manager of NAMIC, in a statement. “Rather than bowing to presumptions and doomsaying about the feasibility of moving to competitive rating, she resolved to take a fresh look at the matter. When she did, she concluded that competitive rating was not only possible but actually required in light of statute and the available empirical evidence.”

The free-market think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute also said Burnes’ reform efforts in the auto insurance marketplace added 11 new insurers to the state and assisted numerous customers in finding affordable coverage.

“A long string of Republican governors and their insurance commissioners gave Massachusetts what was probably the worst, most anti-consumer property and casualty insurance system in the United States,” said Eli Lehrer, CEI’s director for the Center for Risk, Regulation, and Markets, in a statement. “In just about two years, Nonnie Burnes and Governor Deval Patrick have proven that sensible policies that promote risk-based rates are simply a matter of common sense. Freer markets for auto insurance help everyone.”

Prior to her appointment by Patrick to head the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, Burnes was a Superior Court Justice for more than a decade.

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