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GLASS FIRMS VS. INSURERS
And they believe they might just have a little more ammunition than they did earlier this year, when their initial efforts failed.
Bill Griffin, co-owner of D & B Auto Glass and active in the newly formed Arizona Glass Association, said he hopes the fact that a second major company, Farmers Insurance Group, is planning to begin limiting the number of companies it recommends will help convince legislators that some action is needed.
''It should give us a little more clout when we return to the Legislature in January,'' he said.
A bill that would have placed some restrictions on the insurance companies passed the state Senate this year but died at the committee level in the House.
The glass dealers were stirred into action last year after Allstate Insurance Co. began a nationwide single-vendor system in which it recommends that its customers use U.S. Auto Glass outlets for windshield repairs and replacements.
Farmers Insurance, which sells more automobile policies in the state than any other company, confirmed last week that it plans to start a similar program in the next three months but will use four companies on a rotating basis.
However, it said that policyholders will be allowed to have their glass work done at other shops if they wish and that it probably will pay the cost even though it may be higher than the four companies on its vendor list charge.
Allstate said its program also allows policyholders to choose another glass company if they desire. However, the amount the company will pay is decided on a case-by-case basis and usually depends on the difference in price between what its own vendor charges and the average charge of several other dealers.
Still, the glass dealers maintain, recommending an individual repair shop to someone filing a claim usually results in having the work done at that shop, either because the policyholder doesn't know of any other companies or just doesn't want to hassle with the insurance company.
''They're intimidating their policyholders into having the work done where they want, and that's boxing out a lot of independents,'' said Jeff Burr, president of the 45-member glass association.
He said people should not be steered to one shop or another by the insurance companies but simply be allowed to go wherever they want for repairs.
David Blunt, director of public affairs at Farmers in Los Angeles, said the move to the vendor plan is designed to reduce costs and give the company better quality control over glass repairs and replacement.
''It will benefit our policyholders,'' Blunt said.
He said Farmers is negotiating price concessions from the companies that will be on its vendor list, which should reduce expenses and help hold down insurance rates.
Blunt said he understands why the glass companies would complain about the vendor system because they're tying to protect their businesses, but he said Farmers' ultimate goal is to hold down costs.
''And the simple fact is that few people have a preference about where they go for repairs,'' he added. ''They just want their cars fixed.''
In Phoenix, Allstate spokesman Mike McKinney said his company views the single-vendor program as a cost-saving measure and a service to policyholders.
''We want to be the experts that policyholders rely on for price, quality and service,'' McKinney said. ''Very few people know any glass companies, because they don't have that type of work done very often.''
Griffin said the association hopes to get a sponsor for legislation that not only would prohibit the insurance firms from limiting the companies it allows to do repairs but would ban any type of intimidation to get policyholders to go to certain shops.
''If someone calls the insurance company and asks for a recommendation, that's one thing, but they should not be recommending certain companies,'' he said.
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