Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When The Empire Strikes Back, What Does an Insurance Commissioner Committed to Public Transparency Do? Exactly What Commissioner Goodwin Did.

Skullduggery was afoot on Monday by one powerful state Senator that would have raised insurance rates on every North Carolina family, driver, and small business. (Yes, on automobiles, homes, workers compensation, businesses, etc., etc.)

Just in case you had not heard about it, Monday was indeed quite the day. In a move reminiscent of a 2007 ploy documented here and here at Wayne's World, it was "back to the future" with an "under cover of darkness" attempt to strip the Insurance Commissioner's authority to (a) control and cap insurance rates, (b) hold public hearings, and (c) otherwise hold accountable the insurance industry and protect consumers.

So what did Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin do in response? He went public to shine light on the shenanigans, conducting an emergency press conference immediately before the Senate committee was going to rubber-stamp the hidden provision. A bevy of TV, radio, newspaper and blogosphere journalists turned out as he revealed what was afoot.

Check out the news coverage first here at the Raleigh News & Observer's "Under the Dome" blog. One excerpt from that news story, appropriately titled "Goodwin Slams Senator's Attempt to Strip Insurance Commissioner of Authority (to Protect Consumers From Rate Hikes)":
"Using phrases like 'shocking' and 'irresponsible government,' Goodwin said that if passed, the bill would surely cause insurance rates for homes, vehicles and workers compensation to rise throughout the state. ... 'Working people do not need this piled on them,' he said."
Here is a link to another media source, NewsChannel 14, but scan ahead to the 1-minute mark in the accompanying video to hear about the relevant issue. WRAL-TV also had a blurb on the matter, found here at this link. Further coverage appeared in a subsequent Raleigh article.

Admittedly, the all-time best coverage of the matter was by a friend of "Wayne's World", Laura Leslie, uber-reporter for WUNC public radio. Her excellent analysis of "The Mystery Measure" is here. She's the best!

But, not to be outdone, Mark Binker of the Greensboro News & Record added a similarly well-done focus on the incident here within his "What Are They Drinking?" edition. And, courtesy of the News & Record, listen in on the audiotape made at the Senator's press interview about the subject.

Meanwhile, other newspapers and pundits across the State, including in the Beaufort Observer, Civitas Review, WataugaWatch, and BlueNC (both ends of the ideological spectrum, by the way), panned the attempted coup.

"Senators unintentionally sought both insurance deregulation and higher insurance rates for all North Carolinians in one fell swoop, without public input or consultation with the Department of Insurance responsible for protecting consumers," said Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin at the end of the day. "What were these Senators thinking?"
Fortunately due to Insurance Commissioner Goodwin's keen eye and resolute call to arms, Senators removed the "special provision" by late afternoon.

But Goodwin says the public needs to watch this situation with an eagle eye, particularly the Senators' proposal to replace the Insurance Commissioner's authority with that of a seven-member panel. (Only after it was stricken out did the proponent of the measure said he had intended to only strip some of the Insurance Commissioner's authority and instead put the panel in place for 20 coastal counties. Regardless, that Senator tried his maneuver surreptitiously, under the veil of darkness and outside the scope of public input, debate, and review. That's offensive and wrong.)

"They've tried it once before and then tried it again today. To protect consumers from outrageous insurance rates and an unstable market led by unaccountable, unelected, uninformed special interests that certain Senators want deciding your insurance rates, we must watch every move certain lawmakers make and beat back any future attempts."
Many observers said that they had never seen North Carolina's Insurance Commissioner so incensed over an issue. And they agreed with his reason because it goes to the very heart of protecting consumers.

Coverage in the Richmond County Daily Journal continued that drumbeat here and again with the editorial "Let Goodwin Do His Job." Along the same lines were editorials from the Raleigh News & Observer (here) and the Greenville Reflector (here), the latter asserting that the Senator wanted to undermine the democratic process and will of the State's voters.

In the New Bern Sun Journal and elsewhere, Barry Smith of Freedom Newspapers castigated Senate budget writers and said that "Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin was on the ball this week" while Senator Basnight and those who let the mystery provision slip into the budget were not on the ball. He added:
"The cost of insurance, including the Beach Plan, and coastal development are all legitimate issues to be discussed in the halls of the General Assembly....These issues should be decided out in the open, however, not by sticking a provision into the state budget. It’s quite ironic that the now-dropped budget provision would have called for more transparency, considering the apparent lack of knowledge that budget writers had about the provision’s origins."
Entitled "Insurance Chief Thwarts Attack," the Fayetteville Observer said:

"Demerit: For the stealthy attempt to strip N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin of his rate-setting authority. A measure that would turn that responsibility over to a board that would be more responsive to political pressure was slipped into the Senate version of the state budget and was discovered by chance. Goodwin went ballistic, as well he should have - and so should the state's consumers, whose interests Goodwin serves well.

After a chorus of denials, Senate leader Marc Basnight acknowledged that the measure came from his office, but he insisted it was only a proposal that was inadvertently placed in the budget.

Since coastal property owners have been smacked by sharply increased homeowners insurance rates, the measure was clearly retaliation against Goodwin. Consumers need to keep an eye on this one, lest it suddenly and mysteriously rise from the dead."
Commissioner Goodwin said it best, as quoted by the Associated Press:
"I'm the state fire marshal, too. I'm used to hearing three alarms and four alarms. I'm ringing the alarm, ladies and gentlemen."

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