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Car Insurance Companies Seek 11.5 Percent Rate Hike

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Car insurers in North Carolina have requested a more than 10 percent increase in rates later this year.

The North Carolina Rate Bureau (NCRB) has asked that insurance rates be increased by 11.5 percent for passenger vehicles.

The NCRB is an independent organization that represents all of the auto insurance companies doing business in the state.

The Insurance Commissioner's office must review the rate request before it is put into effect, which could be on Oct. 1 of this year.

The department, led by Commissioner Jim Long, said Thursday that it questions the new method insurance companies are using to calculate the rate increase request.

"It will take us some time to fully review this filing, and the Rate Bureau is calculating things differently this year," said Sherri Hubbard, the department's lead rate attorney for auto cases. "We're just not sure yet that the 11.5 percent increase is warranted. Upon initial inspection, we believe this request may not be based on worsening experience -- that is, more claims being paid out -- but rather as the result of new methodology."

In 2004, the department negotiated a zero percent change in rates after the Rate Bureau initially requested a 12.2 percent increase; in 2003, a 15 percent decrease was agreed upon after an initial request of a 10 percent increase.

If the NCRB and department officials are unable to reach an agreement on this year's rates, a hearing will be set for later this year, over which Long will preside.

North Carolina currently has the eighth lowest auto rates in the country.

This year's filing came after a large auto rate refund worth several hundred million dollars. In October and November 2004, North Carolina drivers received refund checks, often for hundreds of dollars. The refunds were the result of the resolution of two contested rate cases in which Long ordered rate decreases; the Rate Bureau fought the orders in court. The 2001 case was decided in North Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled in Long's favor. The 2002 case was settled out of court quickly after that.

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