Administrative Law

Mass. Judge a Quick Study on Insurance


When a former Massachusetts judge was put in charge of the state’s insurance department earlier this year, industry chiefs started worrying. Known to be a liberal Democrat, Nonnie S. Burnes also had no significant insurance experience.

Now, however, they are breathing a sigh of relief. “Burnes last week shocked almost everyone,” reports the Boston Globe. She not only mastered the minutiae of auto insurance regulation in a matter of months, but also set out to break a 30-year-old industry stalemate on deregulation.”

Massachusetts is now the only state in which regulators set insurance rates, the article explains, but Burnes plans to institute “managed competition” next year. The program will allow auto insurers to set their own rates, under state supervision. Supporters say Burnes is a quick study, and also credit her decade of experience as a judge and lack of preconceived ideas about the industry for helping her to deal so speedily with the deregulation issue.

Burnes herself says she simply applied state law to the facts of the situation to reach a conclusion. Once she determined that competition was not “insufficient to assure that rates will not be excessive” or “detrimental to the solvency of insurers,” that was that. “There was no ideological motivation,” she says. “I don’t have a business philosophy, really.”

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