California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi on Wednesday called on insurers to reduce their workers' compensation premium rates by 18 percent.

Citing two years of reforms and improving profit margins for insurers, Garamendi said it was time to pass along double-digit savings to employers, starting with July 1 policy renewals.

In a separate announcement, the State Compensation Insurance Fund, California's largest workers compensation carrier, said it would cut rates an average of 14 percent, starting July 1.

Over the last year, Garamendi has repeatedly called for similar premium drops, but insurers have acted cautiously, dropping their rates an average of 10 percent over the last 18 months. Industry officials have said they want to be sure that the reforms would work before lowering rates further. They also have expressed wariness about new legislation in Sacramento that they believe could raise costs again.

However, last month, the Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, an industry organization charged with projecting future workers' compensation costs, recommended a 14 percent drop in rates.

Since the workers' compensation industry was deregulated in 1995, Garamendi's department no longer has the authority to set insurers' premium rates; he can only make recommendations.

"Many insurers have been slow to fully implement my recommended reductions," Garamendi said Wednesday at a Sacramento-area restaurant hard hit by high workers' compensation premiums. "It's past time for the savings from reforms to be passed along to overburdened employers and injured workers as rapidly as possible."

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