Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Look At The Candidates For California State Insurance Commissioner

If you live in California, you know it was impossible to miss the fact there was an election yesterday. Let's take a look at the two candidates for state Insurance Commissioner, who this November will seek to replace current State Commissioner Steve Poizner, who lost badly in his attempt to win the Republican nomination for governor.

On the Democratic side, the candidate is Dave Jones. Jones is a lawyer whose political experience includes having served as first assistant to, then counsel for, Attorney General Janet Reno during the Clinton administration. Subsequent to this, Jones served on the Sacramento City Council from 1999 through 2004, when he won a seat in the state Assembly. He has been there ever since.

The Republican candidate for State Insurance Commissioner is apparently Brian FitzGerald, currently holding a narrow lead over Mike Villines with the absentee and provincial ballots yet to be counted. FitzGerald spent no money on his campaign, instead relying on a blog and a Facebook page to spread his message. FitzGerald has been a lawyer for twenty-five years and has worked in the California Department of Insurance for sixteen years as an enforcement attorney.

Quoting the information on their respective websites, the two candidates define their candidacy and the issues as follows. First, Jones:

    1. Dave Jones will fight to make sure that insurers do not take advantage of consumers. He understands that when people pay for insurance, they expect their insurance to be there when they need it.
    2. Dave Jones will hold insurers accountable and will work to keep insurance rates affordable. He will use the full authority of the office to make sure that health insurers do not engage in "medical recission" – the practice of finding reasons to rescind health insurance just when people are sick or injured and need it most.
    3. Dave Jones has been a strong advocate for consumers in the State Legislature. He has chaired both the Judiciary Committee and the Health Committee; and he has successfully passed legislation that protects medical and financial privacy, prevents seniors from being abused, and improves health care.
    4. Dave Jones opposes Proposition 17 because it could lead to more uninsured drivers on California roads. (NOTE: The proposition, which allows insurers to offer persistency discounts to auto policy holders regardless of whether the continuous coverage was with that particular carrier, failed to pass with a 47.9% Yes - 52.1% No vote.)
    5. Dave Jones has a strong record of protecting the environment. That’s why he is endorsed by the Sierra Club. He also introduced the Green Insurance Act of 2010. This landmark legislation establishes environmental standards and protections in the insurance business, and provides incentives and tax credits for offering green insurance and making green investments.
    6. Dave Jones was named Consumer Champion by the Consumer Federation of California. Capitol Weekly called him the Legislature’s most effective legislator.
    7. Dave Jones understands that the decisions of the Insurance Commissioner need to be transparent. That’s why he has authored legislation requiring the Department of Insurance to obtain public input and hold hearings on major decisions.
    8. Dave Jones is widely respected for his collaborative approach to problem solving, including working with colleagues across the aisle to obtain solutions.
    9. Dave Jones is an advocate for comprehensive health care reform and has introduced legislation to control health insurance costs and to reform the health care system. Jones has also introduced legislation to prevent discrimination by health insurance. He is well aware that consumers have faced more than 100% increase of in health insurance costs in the last ten years, and that many are at risk of losing their insurance. Additionally, there are 6 million Californians without insurance.
    10. Dave Jones has the training, experience and commitment to be our Insurance Commissioner.

Now, FitzGerald:

The State of California is in a very difficult time. Its recovery will require better governance and restoration of confidence. The continued functioning of the State and the regulation of its commerce ought to be approached on an agency-by-agency basis. The California Department of Insurance is one of those agencies. My contribution to lifting California out of its present situation would be to see that the Department does its job well and efficiently.

The Insurance Commissioner oversees the Department of Insurance. Insurance touches every aspect of Californians' lives and now major change regarding health coverage is coming from the national level, as well. California needs a Commissioner who can be an effective administrator from the outset. There is no longer time for someone to spend two years learning the job and then the next couple running for another office.

I have worked at the Department for more than 16 years as an enforcement attorney and know it well and what to do; in those instances when greater expertise is needed, I have recourse to the Department’s greatest resource: its employees. Over the years of enforcing the Insurance Code and regulations, my witnesses have been investigators, examiners, analysts and actuaries. I know who knows without resort to outside consultants. Better still, they know my work ethic and so do those in the insurance industry. Together, we have handled cases involving agents and companies, rating and underwriting practices, fraud and unfair claims.

My present work takes me to the Department offices, and those of other agencies, around the State. As Commissioner, I would continue that practice so as to listen to staff and see that they had all they need to perform their duties on behalf of California’s still growing population. I have pledged in writing not to seek other office and would concentrate on preserving Department integrity, stability and continuity. Press releases would be informational, not self-serving. As a regulator, I will continue to protect Californians, keeping insurance practices fair and regular, resolving complaints, punishing violations and allowing reasonable rates for those companies that do business here. My view is that commerce is vital to California’s recovery and, risk being part of commerce, the insurance sector provides important coverage products. Given this philosophy, my decisions on rates will be based on the Insurance Code and, given my frugal self-funded campaign, uninfluenced by any special interests.

What I have written so far is about what can be presently improved, but let us consider preparing for the future. As mentioned earlier, Washington has now intervened in health coverage. Whereas before the Legislature was reluctant to place too much authority in a commissioner and instead spread regulation among several State agencies, Congress has now shifted the paradigm. Insurance commissioners of all the States are charged with helping to implement the Patient Protection and Affordability Act.

Representations were made to Californians about the benefits of the Act, but part of that effort is figuring out what Congress passed. We are fortunate to have Department personnel who for years have made the subject of health care coverage their expertise and are laboring under deadlines imposed by the new law.

To a certain extent, the current Insurance Code with its protections adopted over the decades can help, but I see the need for its revision, holding investigatory hearings and conferring with the Legislature regarding enabling statutes to ensure compliance. Complaints as to health care service may be addressed administratively, but that is an after-the-fact approach. Since the Federal government has increased its role in the field, it is my intention to see that the Department regulates the regulator and that our State receives what it was promised.

Daily living in California requires available, affordable and reliable insurance for much of what we do and it is the purpose of the Department is to help Californians get what they need. To this end, I am already on the job, but am now asking you to allow me to do more by electing me Insurance Commissioner.

Thoughts? Leave a comment; let us know what you think. Thanks!

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  1. Thanks for the information Jerry! It will help with my decision.

  2. You got my vote.

  3. Dave Jones is the standard career politician, the only material thing he has in common with
    Brian Fitzgerald is that they are both attorneys.

    This is a rare case where I think we'd be better off with the career bureaucrat instead of the career politician.

    I see the Sierra Club and CFC as very negative
    political influences. Too bad all insurance company Presidents won't go out for meet and greets with the general public and TV reporters
    at every opportunity, rather than hiding from them, and expecting agents to do their bidding.