Rep. Birmingham criticized the Committee on Insurance for abdicating its responsibility on compulsory automobile insurance rates, during a May 1 hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee (Boston Globe, May 1, 1929, p. 12).
Birmingham said that committee should have tackled the problem themselves instead of proposing to set up a special commission.
The House Ways and Means Committee held the hearing convened to examine the Insurance Committee’s decision to report a resolve calling for creation of a special commission to study the issue of compulsory automobile insurance rates.
The Senate and House chairmen of the Insurance Committee defended their actions. The committee had proposed to set up a special committee to study the subject of compulsory auto insurance because the panel did not have sufficient information to make a decision.
“For that reason, the resolve was reported,” said Rep. Eliot Wadsworth of Boston, House chairman of the Insurance Committee.
Rep. Renton Whidden of Brookline noted that the committee had only held one executive session on the subject. “At this session, not one of the bills was opened or discussed. And without considering any of them the committee voted to report out a resolve creating a commission.
Whidden urged the Ways and Means Committee to instruct the Insurance Committee to “do its duty and take some action on the many bills which were submitted to it.”
Rep. Birmingham blamed false accident claims by dishonest lawyers and doctors for the high automobile insurance in the state, during debate on the House floor, the Springfield Republican reported (May 9, 1929, p. 13).
Birmingham charged that Attorney General Warner had criticized the practice but has done nothing to stop it. He quoted former Gov. Fuller, who had said that something should be done about the high rates.
Birmingham pushed the insurance committee to take action to bring down the high rates, but it only recommended setting up a special commission to study the matter. He moved for a rule suspension to permit a motion to refer the matter back to the insurance committee, but the House refused to suspend the rules to entertain Birmingham’s motion.
Birmingham charged the Republicans with covering up something with regard to the insurance rates. The attorney general refused to answer a letter from Birmingham protesting the lack of action. He demanded that the attorney general stop covering up these crooks, summon a special grand jury and the ex-commissioner of insurance, and let him make good on his statements about these men filing false claims, according to the newspaper.
Back in 1925, the legislature passed compulsory auto insurance (Hennessey). During this debate, Rep. Eliot Wadsworth criticized the decision to require compulsory insurance, suggesting that this might be contributing to the high insurance rates.
Not a single state has followed Massachusetts in adopting compulsory insurance, Wadsworth said. He opposed Birmingham’s motion and said the commission needs time to study the issue and the 15 bills referred to the committee to tackle the problem.
In April 1929, Birmingham sent a letter to Warner criticizing his inaction on the auto liability insurance rates. The full text of the letter appears below (Springfield Republican, April 5, 1929, p. 16):
Hon Joseph E. Warner, attorney-general for the state of Massachusetts, State House, Boston, Massachusetts:
Dear sir: As a representative of the people, I feel it my duty to interest myself in the present compulsory automobile insurance law, and am writing to you as you have shown interest in it to the extent of promising a complete investigation of the corrupt practices of lawyers and doctors in presenting fraudulent claims—an alleged reason for the higher rates. I dissented, as a member of the rules committee on the resolve presented by the committee on insurance that a special commission be appointed to study these insurance rates in the future. The time to look into them is now. If this vital question is longer postponed, the people will protest actively against their slow moving public officials. Most earnestly do I desire to be quick to defend the people of this commonwealth, and, therefore, I am going to ask you to give the results of your investigation.
First let me quote some of the fervent official denunciations of these rates, made, it is true, in August, 1928, when the Republican party was seeking votes.
You, yourself, said in your letter to Commissioner Monk in August, 1928, that you “would act as prosecutor to the rights of the people of the commonwealth in an investigation of the connection between ‘quacks’ and ‘shysters’ and insurance rates.”
Gov Fuller was also aroused to state on August 21, 1928--
“Large numbers of people have made fraudulent claims under the law and were aided and abetted in this contemptible practice by doctors and lawyers alike to a point where the insurance commissioner is going to make a complaint to the Bar association that certain lawyers notorious for practice in this regard should be disbarred. It is well known that certain doctors have collaborated in offering evidence for fraudulent claims and this matter the state board of registration in medicine has already taken up.”
Was this indignation and promised action a gesture? If not, why is it all so soon forgotten? What was the outcome of your investigation? The people of this state should not be penalized to uphold the practices of dishonest lawyers and doctors. If these frauds were perpetrated, by all means let us have the matter brought into the light. If the statement of Commissioner Monk had no foundation, then this feature which contributed so largely to the adopting of higher rates should be corrected, and the rates correspondingly lowered.
The present silence after such a storm of protest makes those anxious to clear up this situation feel that something has been hushed up. Was Commissioner Monk fair with the people? Let me remark here that I understand that he is now holding a position with an insurance company which pays him about $15,000 a year.
Commissioner Monk also stated that approximately $6,000,000 was held in reserve for the settlement of 13,000 odd cases. This was in August 1928. Now, in April 1929, it is still maintained that the same amount and the same number of cases are still outstanding. Has none of the cases been settled by the court procedure? It is strange that this large sum of money does not decrease, nor the cases reach conclusion.
Our present Governor, then Lieut Gov Allen, injected himself into the issue and on Aug. 25, 1928, requested Commissioner Monk to allow the present rates on compulsory automobile liability insurance to remain as at present until at least further data had been received. Why doesn't Gov Allen take definitive steps now to relieve the situation, if he held such views before election?
Lieut Gov Youngman was so deeply interested as to file a bill against this unjust legislation, but what has he done to further corrective measures? His voice, so often raised on the platform at election time, was silent when an opportunity came for him to pursue a tangible policy. Does he oppose the dilly-dally policy of the Republican legislation, or is he a party to it?
On the Republican party rests the responsibility of these rates and they must assume the responsibility. Now in April, 1929, just as in August, 1928, these office-seekers must clear themselves in the eyes of the people of this state. They must do something--now. Next year the insurance companies, fattening on the easy money of the present tax, will seek and obtain another larger tax. Let us seek to make one rate for the zoning law, and that one the minimum and not the maximum rate. Let us take up the fight as earnestly as the Republicans promised to do before election, and let us accomplish this vital reform without further delay.
I have risen as a representative of the people of this commonwealth to bitterly oppose a further postponement of this question. As you have in the past professed a deep interest in the subject, will you join forces with me now in the present to settle this subject of insurance rates by giving me details of your investigation?
May I have a speedy reply to this important matter?
Very truly yours,
Rep. Leo M. Birmingham