Posted on 17 Nov 2009
The National Conference of Insurance Legislators isn't going stand idle as the U.S. Congress considers a bevy of bills that would affect the insurance industry. At NCOIL's annual meeting, beginning Nov. 19 in New Orleans, the organization of state legislators intends to produce its own vision for the right way to handle the latest regulatory suggestions out of Washington: the national insurance office, credit default swaps, health care, aftermarket automobile parts and several others.
"It's a very significant meeting. A lot of issues are coming to a head that impact all types of insurance," said NCOIL President James Seward, a state senator from New York.
And the group will keep delivering its perpetual argument. "We're going to continue to take every opportunity to make the case that insurance regulation has, I think, proven itself in the midst of all this financial collapse," Seward said. "Insurance has been a bright star and beacon in terms of solvency and soundness."
The four-day meeting is expected to produce a number of new model laws, but what's driving most of the current effort is a response to the fallout over the U.S. recession. "Certainly one of our concerns moving into this meeting is the impact of the economic downturn and the subsequent -- or not -- federal bills that have been moving forward," said Susan Nolan, NCOIL executive director.
The organization intends to dig into the issue of a potential new federal insurance office, though it has already made its position clear: strong opposition. The chief officers of NCOIL wrote a letter to relevant U.S. lawmakers, arguing: "The office's enhanced pre-emptive power and lack of answerability are alarming to state officials who have seen the success of checks and balances in the state system." It would allow a "czar" appointed by the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury to "override existing law without meaningful dialogue with the states," they wrote. NCOIL's meeting agenda includes consideration of a resolution opposing the national office. The property/casualty arena will include work on aftermarket automobile parts and air bag fraud. "We've been working on aftermarket crash parts for quite some time," said Charles Curtiss, a Tennessee state representative who is chairman of NCOIL's property/casualty committee. "I do feel we'll pass something on that."
NCOIL's staff expects a contentious debate, too, on whether salvaged air bags should be used as viable replacements in cars.
The meeting will also include examination of health care issues -- specifically the potential costs on the state level. "We like the idea of states being laboratories of democracy when it comes to health insurance," Nolan said. "We're very protective of our authority to regulate what is left of the health insurance market." And more specifically: The organization is looking at a model bill to ban dental plans from setting fees for uncovered services.
Other issues to be raised include credit default insurance legislation and workers' compensation coverage in the construction field for workers misclassified as independent contractors. NCOIL focused on the construction industry "because that's where a lot of fraud and abuse goes on," Nolan said. "We expect that to move at our meeting."
Curtiss said it helps him as a legislator when he participates in forming national guidance through NCOIL -- feeling involved instead of watching from the sidelines. "It makes a legislator much more effective," he said. Though the meeting is to be held on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Curtiss joked that he isn't expecting a party atmosphere. "I promise you, I've never felt like partying," he said. "They work us so hard all day long, all I want to do is get some rest."
Seward, who will be replaced as president by Kentucky Rep. Robert Damron at this annual meeting, said NCOIL has to be wary of the "era of reform we see out of Washington. Our job has become tougher than ever in terms of preserving state-based regulation," he said.
"Insurance really was handled rather well throughout this crisis," Nolan contends. "But I think there are people and there are entities that don't ever want to let a good crisis go to waste."