Over Objections, NCOIL Restricts Web Access to Meeting Documents

The Albany, N.Y.-based National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) has announced that it will restrict access to the portions of its Web site dealing with adopted models and resolutions, reports, issue briefs and meeting minutes.

The move, an attempt to increase the group’s membership meeting attendance, was met with disapproval from at least one insurance-consumer advocate.

NCOIL, whose dozens of members from around the country specialize in insurance legislation, voted last summer to take the action and has been in the process of implementing it since then, according to a statement released by the group. Insurers, agents and consumer groups will be charged a fee for access to NCOIL minutes and meeting reports, and additional fees will be charged for adopted models and resolutions. Copies will be complimentary to members of the news media upon request.

The fee structure has not been finalized yet but would be comparable to those charged by the National Association for Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), according to Candace Frick, NCOIL’s spokeswoman. Meeting minutes and reports would probably cost around $25, while adopted models and reports would cost more, depending on their size.

In an e-mail response to Frick, J. Robert Hunter, insurance director at the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Federation of America, said the move was “truly an outrage … especially given the uneven distribution of resources between insurers (who can pay for these items and pass the cost on to consumers) and the general public. This is an unnecessary barrier to erect between NCOIL and the public, especially from an organization dominated by insurance company delegates at your meetings and heavily made up of part-time legislators who are full-time insurance industry employees.”

A report released last year by CFA claimed that of 57 legislators who were then NCOIL members, “23 (40 percent) were affiliated with or conducted business with insurance interests. This included legislators who identified their current or previous part- or full-time occupations as ‘insurance,’ insurance agents, claims representatives, agency owners or insurance underwriters.”

In a statement released in response to Hunter’s complaint, the group said that any of the three consumer representatives allowed to attend any meeting would receive complimentary copies of the off-limits documents.

The clarification did not satisfy Hunter, who in another e-mail said, “If you think that your weak consumer admissions policy … is sufficient access, you are dead wrong!” He went on to write that consumer groups’ limited funds made it hard for them to travel to all the events and added, “Three people having your stuff is hardly consumer access for the many consumers of insurance in America you should represent as elected officials.”

Frick said NCOIL does not have the money to fund consumer advocate attendance at meetings, but that allowing designated consumer representatives complimentary access to the off-limits Web documents might be considered at the group’s spring meeting in San Antonio, Feb. 26-29.