Originally created 11/16/02

Group brings up insurance issues



A group of more than 60 local members of the auto collision repair industry met Thursday night to hear what their insurance commissioner could do for them.

It's not a whole lot, as it turns out.

But it was enough to get the group thinking about lobbying for change.

Georgia's newly re-elected insurance and safety fire commissioner, John Oxendine, explained to members of the CSRA Collision Industry Association that his role is to regulate how insurance companies treat policy holders.

As a third party, body repair shops fall outside that relationship.

"You're a vendor to the insurance company," Mr. Oxendine told the group.

The group developed a list of 15 questions for the meeting about insurance companies' handling of rental car reimbursements, work estimates done without visual inspections, and payment for hazardous waste disposal.

Mr. Oxendine and the staff members had some of the answers that are already addressed by state law: Insurance companies can suggest a particular body repair shop to a policy holder, but they cannot require a person to go to a preferred one. And shops cannot "pad out" estimates to help customers meet their deductible.

But many of the topics dealt with issues that could be changed only through new laws, such as a professional licensing requirement for the shops.

John Saxon, the owner of Columbia Paint & Body Works in Martinez, said he hoped more of the invited local legislators would have shown up to the meeting to hear the concerns.

"Laws have got to be passed," he said. "We're not interested in making a windfall in profits. It's not like we're going to bash the insurance company, but something's got to be changed."

The two state legislators who did show up - Sen. Joey Brush and Rep. Ben Harbin - urged the members to become involved at a grass-roots level in getting their complaints heard in Atlanta.

Before leaving, Mr. Oxendine also offered to set up a meeting through his office between the local trade association and insurance companies to see whether the two sides could find any common ground.

The association's president, Keith Brown, said the group, which was formed less than two years ago, will begin by meeting with local insurance agents and lawmakers before setting up trips to the state Capitol.

"I think we came to understand what the Insurance Commissioner can do for us and what he can't," Mr. Brown said. "It got our people to see what our next step is."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.