In this article we will spell out with as much simplicity as possible the practices (and behaviors) of insurance carriers and help you (the consumer) to determine whether you are safe when you file an auto glass claim, or windshield insurance claim directly with your insurance company.
The center of this story goes back 25 years. With its long history of mergers and acquisitions, in 1991 Safelite had made its way to the sales leaderboard of auto glass repair and replacement services – as well as windshield manufacturing – when it decided to go a step further and provide claim services (then labeled “Total Claim Solutions”) for a total of 21 of America’s top insurance companies like Safeco, Travelers, and State Farm.
Their proposal was simple: we answer auto glass claims phone calls for insurance companies and reduce their operating costs. In other words, when the customer calls their insurance company and follows the prompts for “auto glass claims” one of Safelite associates picks up the call and handles the claim.
It didn’t matter. Insurance companies dove right in and before too long the signs of a monopoly began to surface – and these signs remain among us today.
What is a monopoly? Well, here’s a definition by www.investopedia.com:
A monopoly is characterized by the absence of competition, which can lead to high prices and inferior products and services.
Although competition is not completely absent, there is certainly an effort in place to eliminate as much competition as possible. So let’s dive in to the issue of the “absence of competition” first by examining Safelite’s practices before discussing the “inferior products and services” part of the definition by examining their services.
The only way to keep this relationship legal was to work with other auto glass shops and establish a “network” of shop providers to create the illusion that this was fair practice.
Safelite and the insurance companies agreed on new “fair prices” that would be billed for services by any auto glass company entering into this agreement to participate in their “network.”
Also take in consideration that Safelite manufactures windshields and can make them for a fraction of the cost of windshields that are sold to auto glass shop owners.
In other words Safelite says “Hey, we’re answering the calls for the insurance companies. Do you want to take some of the work? We have to give some away to pretend this is all fair practice… But, there’s a caveat: you must be willing to accept ridiculously lower prices for your work. We will make you sign a contract saying that you agree to do so. We help dictate how much you can charge for your services.”
Insurance companies introduced this system by letting auto glass shop owners know that, in order to file an auto glass claim for their policyholders, they had to become part of Safelite’s network first. Feeling like they did not have a choice, auto glass shop owners nationwide signed up to these networks in order to attempt to continue to provide services to auto insurance customers.
These new network pricing agreements started to mandate new lower network prices almost on an annual basis. List prices (known industrywide as NAGS – National Auto Glass Specifications) began to drop and network pricing fell to anywhere between 40% to 55% OFF NAGS – that is 55% less than the list prices – list prices that were dropped over time.
Many auto glass shops shut down and master technicians who were shop owners had to resort to doing subcontracting work for some of the larger auto glass shops. The ones who remained in business had to drop their employees and reduce their quality standards in order to afford operating their business at a much lower pay.
This also forced many of them to start using aftermarket glass rather than Original Equipment Manufacturer glass, which also helped Safelite sell more of their inventory since they manufacture high volumes of aftermarket, less expensive glass (more on this as this article continues).
What about freedom of choice?
Customers still have freedom of choice, but that message won’t get across by speaking to a Safelite rep during a phone call made to your insurance company.
If you call your insurance company and follow the prompts to a “Glass Only Claim” you will fall on Safelite’s lap who will gladly file an auto glass claim on your behalf and recommend a shop for you should you not have one in mind.
If you have already selected an auto glass shop that is not on their list, they will explicitly tell you that you will be liable for any amount billed above the network’s accepted amount. And I mean, they will drill that into you until you are pressed with fear and, in many cases, decide against using the glass shop you had original intent to use.
Now let me be very clear about something:
No insurance policyholder (customer) will ever be billed or forced to pay any amount beyond what is “accepted” by Safelite’s network. Definitely not by working with Auto Glass City.
Even if there are any amounts billed above the network amounts, they are the responsibility of the insurance company and not of the customer. That fight is between the auto glass shop and the insurance company, and should never involve the customer.
Auto glass shops do not make their practice to collect balances from customers. They do, however, from time to time attempt to collect balances from low and unreasonable reimbursements by insurance companies.
So, the fight is not AUTO GLASS SHOP vs. CUSTOMER as Safelite will make it sound like during a phone call when you have selected an “out of network” shop. The fight is AUTO GLASS SHOP vs. NETWORK, namely Safelite.