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Deal lets advocate see insurance data

AUSTIN - The Texas insurance industry has cleared the way for a consumer advocate hired by a state lawmaker to examine reports that show where insurers have sold and canceled policies.

Farmers Insurance, which had refused to withdraw its support for a temporary restraining order granted by a district judge last week, agreed Thursday evening to a settlement in the legal dispute.

Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, had sought the information, which is considered confidential but is open to lawmakers, and hired advocate Birny Birnbaum to help analyze it.

Mr. Burnam said he wanted the information, which shows where insurers write auto and homeowners' policies, to determine whether Texas insurers are illegally denying coverage because of a person's race, ethnicity or neighborhood.

Insurance companies objected because, unlike legislators and state insurance officials, the analyst would not be bound by a law requiring him to keep the reports confidential.

"We are joining with the rest of the industry in basically saying that there is a settlement in this legal dispute. There's now an agreement reached with Birnbaum that he will maintain confidentiality of this data, and we are satisfied with that," said Mark Toohey, Farmers spokesman in Austin.


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