Maine Superintendent of Insurance Eric Cioppa has ruled against Progressive Corp.’s request to raise car insurance rates for seniors in Maine.

Progressive had been seeking state approval for rate changes that would allow the company to charge older Mainers higher auto insurance premiums based solely on their age. The proposal by the Ohio-based company would have applied only to new customers in Maine, according to documents filed with the state Department of Professional and Financial Regulation’s Bureau of Insurance.

A hypothetical example that Progressive provided to the bureau showed a 65-year-old being charged 6 percent more than a 64-year-old based solely on the customer having reached age 65.

Increasing rates for seniors based on their age alone would have been a major departure from the way most insurance companies operate nationwide and in Maine, which has a population that leads the nation in average age. Healthy drivers with flawless driving records typically see their premiums decrease as they age.

In his ruling against Progressive, Cioppa noted that Progressive’s requested rate hike would have affected as many as 65,000 policyholders in Maine. He said the change would have violated a section of Maine’s insurance code that protects drivers from arbitrary rate increases based on their age.

“No insurance company authorized to transact business in this state shall cancel, reduce liability limits, refuse to renew or increase the premium of any automobile insurance policy of any kind whatsoever for the sole reason that the person to whom such policy has been issued has reached a certain age,” Cioppa quoted the insurance code as saying.

Progressive spokesman Jeff Sibel said that while the company had the right to appeal Cioppa’s ruling, it has decided to put the matter to rest.

“We decided to abide by that decision and have dismissed the administrative action,” Sibel said via email. “There are no longer any administrative proceedings pending in Maine regarding this issue and the matter is terminated.”

DRAWING A LINE

Under Maine law, the superintendent has the authority to regulate auto insurance rates in the state to ensure that they are not “excessive, inadequate or unfairly discriminatory.”

In his ruling, Cioppa stated that the insurance bureau has in the past received insurance rate filings that contained higher rate classifications for older drivers, such as those over 70 or 75. However, he said those rate requests involved “a multivariate analysis of loss expectation.”

Cioppa said that where Maine draws the line is when an insurer seeks to raise an insured driver’s premium “solely due to the advancement in age or the movement to another age group.”

“It is the Bureau’s position that an insured’s premium may not increase if the only change is the change in the age of the insured,” he said.

A hearing Progressive requested to discuss the proposed rate increase had been scheduled for Aug. 16. However, Cioppa said in his ruling that Progressive withdrew its hearing request in late July. Still, he said that as superintendent he had the authority to issue a ruling without the hearing.

Cioppa noted that his ruling was “without prejudice,” meaning that Progressive maintains the right to have the bureau revisit the issue in a future rate filing.

Progressive had initially asked the bureau to allow it to raise the rates of all new and existing customers in Maine as they age, but the bureau denied that request in June, saying it would violate state law. However, the bureau had agreed to discuss further the possibility of increasing rates for new customers only.

When news of Progressive’s rate request was publicized, it received criticism from AARP Maine State Director Lori Parham, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and others. Collins, a Republican, sent a letter to Progressive President and CEO Tricia Griffith demanding an explanation for the company’s rate request.

“As Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, I have been greatly concerned by Progressive’s discriminatory proposal to increase auto insurance rates for seniors, which would have imposed significant hardships on older individuals, particularly those who have limited incomes or lack access to transportation alternatives,” Collins said Wednesday via email. “Last month, I wrote to Progressive’s CEO to raise my concerns as well as to request justification and additional information for its rate increase in Maine and nationally. I am pleased that the Maine Bureau of Insurance has rejected Progressive’s proposal. The company’s filing highlights the need to ensure that auto insurance practices do not discriminate against seniors.”

In July, state Rep. Henry Beck, a Democrat who represents parts of Waterville and Oakland, submitted to the Revisor’s Office a proposed amendment to the Maine Insurance Code in response to Progressive’s request that, if adopted, would bar all insurers in Maine from seeking age-based increases for older drivers in the future.

“This is good news for Maine seniors,” Beck, who is House chair of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee, said of the ruling. “There remains more work to be done to ensure that price hikes based solely on a senior getting older do not take place under other circumstances. My bill would make certain that does not happen here in Maine.”

About 14 percent of Maine drivers had policies through Progressive and its affiliates in 2014, according to the most recent Bureau of Insurance figures.

One factor that could have been driving the company’s request is Maine’s higher-than-average rate of fatal accidents involving drivers 65 and older. Maine led the nation in 2012 and 2013 with the highest share of older drivers involved in fatal accidents, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. In 2012, the share of fatal accidents involving drivers 65 and older in the United States was 12.7 percent. In Maine it was 18.6 percent. In 2013, the share nationally was 13.3 percent, and in Maine it was 20.6 percent.

Overall, Mainers paid $758 million in auto insurance premiums in 2014, according to the latest figures from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Parham, the state’s AARP director, applauded Cioppa’s ruling and said her organization believes that approving Progressive’s request would have set a “dangerous precedent” in Maine.

“It also would have sent the wrong message to older Mainers and those looking to retire here,” she said.