Comparing insurers and filing complaints

Auto insurers, in particular, have gotten very good lately at price competition.  Think "Flo," everybody's favorite aunt who minds the store for Progressive, or the Geico gecko and his "15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more."

With complex models and variations in underwriting practices, the basic idea is true: If you shop around for price, you may well find significant savings, because every company slices and dices the risk pool just a little bit differently.

Most now use a variant on credit scoring in their models, but they may weight it differently. Some use ZIP codes to define territories, others use historical boundaries. Some use education or occupation in their models; others advertise proudly that they (mostly) just look at your driving record.

But few advertise anything about their claims practices, according to Jay M. Feinman, a law professor at Rutgers University-Camden and author of a new book, "Delay, Deny, Defend" that contends that leading insurers have been urged by consultants to undervalue claims and as a way to boost profits. You can read more about his book in a column I wrote last Sunday.

Feinman urges consumers to take companies' claims performance into account.  "So far as I know, Chubb is the only company that in recent years has advertised that its claim practices are better than other companies," Feinman says.

Feinman wants more information to be available to consumers. Meanwhile, here is some you can find online:

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department's guide, How to Choose an Insurance Company.

J.D. Power & Associates' consumer satisfaction and claim-handling surveys.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Consumer Information Source, which give data on complaints by type.

One valuable survey by Consumer Reports is only available with subscription, here. It rated customer satisfaction with 16 companies. Three companies got top ratings for "Problems With Claims" and "Amounts Paid": Amica Mutual Group; USAA Group; and Chubb Group of Insurance Cos.

To contact the New Jersey Department of Banking & Insurance, or to obtain a complaint form, call 609-292-5316. For more information or to submit a complaint online, click here.

To contact the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, or obtain a complaint form, call 1-877-881-6388. For more information or to submit a complaint online, click here.