Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Insurance Commissioner Goodwin Visits Senior Democrats of Wake County

Last week I had the personal pleasure to join the Wake County Senior Dems as their monthly luncheon speaker.

In addition to sharing with the gathered activists the duties and scope of the office of Insurance Commissioner and of the Department of Insurance, the senior citizens posed many insightful questions. Their queries spanned the topics of health insurance reforms in Washington, D.C. to the State Health Plan involving state employees, retirees, and their dependents; from coastal insurance to the vital consumer protections provided by the office of Insurance Commissioner.

"I was especially pleased to share with them the mission of my Department's Seniors' Health Insurance Information Program," said Goodwin. "We talked in depth about how we have trained SHIIP volunteers around the State who are available to help folks navigate the maze of Medicare Part D."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brief Book Review: "1001 Things Everyone Should Know About the South"

Though it's been awhile since this blog has leapt into literary reviews (or literary references for that matter), I have just (finally!) completed my reading of "1001 Things Everyone Should Know About the South," published in 1996 by a subsidiary of Doubleday Press. My fellow UNC-Chapel Hill and Di-Phi colleague, John Shelton Reed, and his spouse, Dale Volberg Reed, wrote this very useful reference book some time back and it has remained, due to my own hectic life over the last number of years, partially consumed by me throughout that time. Over the course of the last two months I escaped to pore over 20 or 30 pages at a clip. If you haven't read it, then please give it a chance. My one wish regarding this work is that the authors update it because undoubtedly "the South" has been in the news more than ever over the last 20 years and there are assuredly quite a few additions to make to this encyclopedia.

Included already are listings such as BBQ (all types, if you don't know what I mean then you're not from either North Carolina or the South); Elvis; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mahalia Jackson; Andrew Jackson; Moonpies and RC Cola; Pepsi-Cola and its rival, Coca-Cola; Duncan Hines; the War Between the States; religion; music; geography; grits; kudzu; and hundreds and hundreds more seminal events, people, places, and things that any self-respecting Southerner needs to know and know quite well.

"1001 Things ..." is a very good book, both a history and a reference book simultaneously. I give it a high recommendation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Insurance Commissioner Goodwin: NC Has the Lowest Auto Rates in the South

"We're the Largest State in the Whole Country with the Lowest Insurance Rates," He Says

Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin today announced that North Carolina drivers pay an average of $591.11 each year for auto insurance, the 8th lowest in the country and the lowest in the South according to a report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

"I'm pleased that North Carolina remains one of the most affordable states in the country for auto insurance and definitely the best value in the southeast," said Commissioner Goodwin. "This ranking comes just a few months after I signed a settlement that rolls back auto insurance rates to 2006 levels, freezes them until at least 2011, and gives approximately $50 million back to many North Carolina drivers in the form of refund checks."

It's important to note that North Carolina is the most populous state among the 10 states with the lowest auto rates. The top 10 states with the lowest auto insurance rates are:

1. North Dakota
2. Iowa
3. South Dakota
4. Nebraska
5. Idaho
6. Kansas
7. Wisconsin
8. North Carolina
9. Maine

Contributing to North Carolina's low auto insurance rates is the state's unique ratemaking process; North Carolina is one of the only states to negotiate standardized, across-the-board rates for all companies, depending on territory. The rate set by the Insurance Commissioner is the cap, and companies writing traditional policies can only deviate from this rate by offering discounts. As a result, most drivers enjoy some sort of discount.

Commissioner Goodwin added, "this good news for North Carolina families and businesses is especially welcome in these challenging economic times."
The NAIC report compares the costs of personal automobile insurance in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, based on 2007 data. North Carolina's neighboring states rank as follows: Tennessee:14th; Virginia: 17th; South Carolina: 30th; Georgia: 31st.

"There should be no question about it: Considering this news and my announcements about recovering $20 Million for consumers in 2009 and saving NC drivers $545 Million over the next two years, North Carolina's Commissioner of Insurance and its Department of Insurance fight strongly everyday to protect consumers with fair ratemaking," added Goodwin.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Watch Short "Operation Medicine Drop" Video

Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin reported on "Operation Medicine Drop" here at this site previously.

Now, take approximately three minutes to learn in a nutshell about the program from the accompanying video. You'll hear first-hand from Commissioner Goodwin, and leaders from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the State Capitol Police.

Further details are found at the official NC Department of Insurance website posting at this link.

It is also important to note that safely and securely disposing of unused or expired prescription drugs not only is a public safety protection, but it also prevents contamination of the water supply and funneling of these medicines to the black market, fueled by addiction and criminal activity.

Goodwin Meets With 300+ Eastern NC Leaders, State Safety Experts and Law Enforcement Officers

During an action-packed series of meetings and speeches over two days last week, state Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin met with 300-plus eastern North Carolina leaders, state safety experts and law enforcement officers. Carteret and Craven counties served as the host locations.

In Atlantic Beach he first delivered remarks to the Safe Kids North Carolina statewide annual meeting. (Goodwin serves as chairman of the association.) He and Safe Kids NC officers presented awards for outstanding leadership by county chapters and coalition members. Here at this link are some photographs from the conference.The next day, the Insurance Commissioner addressed sheriffs' deputies, highway patrolmen, police officers, firefighters, and volunteers at the North Carolina Child Passenger Safety Conference. With the theme of "Making a Difference in a Child's Life," the group covered a wide variety of conference topics and reviewed current related laws. Sponsoring this year's conference were the Office of State Fire Marshal, the NC Department of Insurance, the Governor's Highway Safety Program, UNC Highway Safety Research Center, and others.

Insurance Commissioner Goodwin then followed up with a New Bern luncheon with business and community leaders. Young insurance professionals and independent agents welcomed him, and learned from the regulator first-hand the consumer protections he and NCDOI are providing eastern North Carolina and the rest of the State. They were also reminded how the Tar Heel state benefits tremendously from some of the lowest automobile insurance rates and homeowners' insurance rates (whether coast, piedmont, or mountains) compared to most similar states.

Those in attendance further heralded the good government initiatives of Commissioner Goodwin, stressing his and NCDOI's accessibility and their unwavering commitment to public participation, transparency, and prompt constituent service.

"It's always a pleasure to travel across beautiful eastern North Carolina, and to join together with partners dedicated to public safety and consumer protection," said Insurance Commissioner Goodwin.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Insurance Commissioner Goodwin Announces $20 Million Recovery for NC Citizens

Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin today released the 2009 statistics for the Department of Insurance's Consumer Services, Healthcare Review, Market Regulation, Criminal Investigations and SHIIP Divisions:

•The Consumer Services Division, which handles consumer inquiries and complaints about insurance-related issues, handled some 90,000 calls and processed more than 8,500 written complaints from the public. Through these calls and complaints, the Department was able to help citizens recover more than $9 million from insurance companies.

•The Healthcare Review Division returned $175,540.32 to consumers who received an external review because of a health insurance claim denial. When health insurance claims are denied, Healthcare Review works with consumers to complete their insurers' appeals and grievances procedures; if a denial is deemed to be for a service that is medically necessary, the consumer can request an external review through the Division. External reviews provide a second look at the denial by a third party expert.

•The Market Regulation Division conducts both routine and targeted market conduct examinations on foreign and domestic licensed companies (insurance companies, premium finance companies, HMOs, PPOs, and more) to ensure compliance with state laws and regulations. Through these exams, the Division ordered $981,300.81 returned to policyholders.

•The Criminal Investigations Division employs 20 sworn law enforcement officers dedicated to investigating claims of insurance fraud. In 2009, these criminal investigators saw more than 413 cases successfully closed with more than $10.5 million in restitution and recoveries, 89 criminal convictions and 175 arrests.

•The SHIIP (Seniors' Health Insurance Information Program) Division assisted more than 76,000 consumers with general Medicare questions and helped enroll more than 2,600 Medicare recipients in the Low-Income Subsidy program that provides savings for prescription drug costs. The Division offers free, unbiased information about Medicare, Medicare prescription drug coverage, Medicare Advantage, long-term care insurance and other health insurance information. SHIIP's trained volunteers provide one-on-one counseling in all 100 counties. For Medicare-related questions or complaints, call SHIIP directly at 1-800-443-9354 or visit www.ncshiip.com.
"I'm proud that through our work at the Department we could get $20 Million in money back for consumers across North Carolina," said Commissioner Goodwin. "This year's numbers are especially eye-opening but certainly great news knowing that so many families have struggled financially this past year. Consumers need to know that the Department of Insurance is here to help them. Our strong, state-based insurance regulatory oversight here in North Carolina is a vital component to the consumer protections evident in our 2009 recovery statistics."
Anyone with questions about insurance can call the Department's Consumer Services Division at 800-546-5664 to speak with an insurance expert. If your health insurance has denied your claim, you may also contact the Healthcare Review Division at 1-877-885-0231. Further anyone with insurance fraud suspicions should call the Criminal Investigations Division at 919-807-6840; callers may remain anonymous.

Consumer information, downloadable publications and links to the Department's social media sites and online suggestion box are available at www.ncdoi.com.

# # #

*Based on publicly available report at this link.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Operation Medicine Drop Disposes of Unused, Expired Prescriptions; NC Insurance Commissioner Goodwin Encourages Participation

Nearly 200 take-back events statewide offer public safe, secure way to dispose of medications

According to news today from your North Carolina Insurance Commissioner's office, poisoning from prescription medications is on the rise in North Carolina - since 1999 more than 75 percent of all unintentional poisonings were caused by prescription or over-the-counter medications (source N.C. Division of Public Health). Operation Medicine Drop is aimed at providing the public a safe and secure method for disposing of their prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Children ages 1-5 account for 23 percent of all emergency department visits related to poisoning and these types of injuries result in a high death rate of infants younger than 1 year old due to their smaller size (source World Health Organization 2008 Childhood Injury Report).

"During Poison Prevention Week, March 14-20, Operation Medicine Drop will host nearly 200 take-back events statewide where the public can drop off prescriptions or over-the-counter products that may have expired or are unused," said Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin. "Every Operation Medicine Drop event will have a law enforcement partner that will help North Carolinians dispose of their medications in a safe and secure way." Goodwin, who serves as the Safe Kids North Carolina state chair, added that additional event information is available on the Safe Kids Web site, www.ncsafekids.org.
The leading primary, public event will be led by Commissioner Goodwin on Halifax Mall in the State Government Complex in Raleigh on Monday, March 15.

While most parents and caregivers are familiar with other poisoning culprits such as cleaning supplies and poisonous plants, most childhood poisonings occur from medications. Whether a person is injured or dies is determined by many factors such as dosing, size of child, condition of child's health, and means of ingestion. The best form of prevention is to remove any risk from a child's environment.

Operation Medicine Drop is sponsored across North Carolina by Safe Kids North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Insurance, State Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration. For more information about Operation Medicine Drop or for a schedule of statewide take-back events, visit www.ncsafekids.org and click on the Operation Medicine Drop logo.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Insurance Commissioner Goodwin, NCDOI Launch Mobile Web Site for Consumers

Abbreviated site another example of Commissioner Goodwin's Good Government Initiative

Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin today announced the launching of a mobile version of the N.C. Department of Insurance's Web site, www.ncdoi.com, to provide a mobile-friendly way for consumers to link with the Department using their cell phones.

"The Department of Insurance is always looking for ways to reach out to the public and provide information about how the Department can be of assistance," said Commissioner Goodwin. "As more and more people are using their web-ready phones to connect with the Internet, I want to make sure that www.ncdoi.com is user-friendly and provides direct access to our consumer help lines and at-a-glance consumer information." Goodwin added that the mobile site is an abbreviated version of the Department's standard Web site.

Consumers who visit the N.C. Department of Insurance's mobile Web site using their Internet-accessible mobile phone will find linked phone numbers to the Department's consumer help lines, recent press releases, social media pages and consumer quick guides on insurance.

Commissioner Goodwin's Good Government Initiative strives to increase transparency, access and customer service in state government. Other Good Government Initiative projects include the Department's online suggestion box, added Web presence through social media sites and a general increase in consumer outreach and public availability by Commissioner Goodwin.

For more information about this news, go to this link.

The Merits of an Elected State Insurance Commissioner

Sean Carr of A.M. Best recently interviewed me and a number of my fellow elected state Insurance Commissioners from around the country.

Among my comments were:
“Having independence from a governor, or having independence from whomever would make an appointment, is vital,” said North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin. The first-term Democrat said having an elected commissioner “is an extra level of consumer protection.”
Check out the rest of his article by linking here or by going to this site sponsored by Texans for Insurance Reform.

More than ever as Americans debate the need for appropriate regulation of insurance and how to contain medical costs and stave off any and all unnecessary insurance premium hikes proposed by the insurance industry, having an elected Insurance Commissioner keeps the pulse of the people plugged into the process. In many states where the position is elected you see some of the best rates and some of the strongest consumer protections and stable markets.

Having an elected Insurance Commissioner also prevents an insurance industry executive or anti-consumer maven from appointment by a hypothetical governor seeking to please gubernatorial contributors or supporters.

Keep in mind, too, that North Carolina - historically and through this day - has zealously opposed centralized authority. This fact explains why it took two hundred years before a Governor could seek re-election and serve eight years, and why it took even longer for a Tar Heel governor to have veto authority, and why for many, many years the citizens of this State have demanded the right to vote on as many statewide offices as possible on our long ballot.

Just as I see it for Insurance Commissioner, having these elected positions is another level of protection for consumers and taxpayers.

Our job, as citizens, is to make sure we know as much as we can about the candidates and the key issues. That duty is incumbent upon every one of us if we believe in representative democracy.

Keeping an elected Insurance Commissioner in North Carolina is right, good, and historically sound for our people.