Delaware’s Race for Insurance Commissioner Pits Advocate Denn Vs. Conciliator Ennis

By | September 7, 2004

Delaware voters face a choice in this year’s election for state insurance commissioner between a Democratic counsel to the current governor who vows to “stand up for Delawareans” and a Republican veteran legislator who lays claim to being a “great conciliator” able to sit down with people to solve problems.

Democrat Matt Denn faces opposition in the Sept. 11 primary from Karen Weldin Stewart but as his party’s endorsed candidate, Denn is favored to win and go on to the November final against Rep. David Ennis, who is unopposed in the Republican primary for the insurance post.

The Sept. 6 edition of Insurance Journal East includes an in-depth report on the two candidates and their positions on insurance and regulatory issues. Insurance Journal East is part of a nationwide network of regional insurance industry print and online news services.

Denn and Ennis are vying statewide for the opportunity to lead the Delaware Insurance Department with its budget of close to $20 million and about 75 employees. The department generates more than $50 million for state coffers. The incumbent, Republican Donna Lee Williams, declined to run for re-election after serving in the post for the past 12 years.

According to Denn, a Yale Law School graduate who has a background as an advocate for children’s and legal aid services and a crafter of legislation for Gov. Ruth Anne Minner, “the overarching responsibility of the Delaware Insurance Commissioner is to ensure that Delaware insurance consumers have access to affordable and fairly administered insurance.” Denn said that he would be “more visible and available and become more of an advocate for individual policy holders.”

In his Insurance Journal interview, Ennis said he would draw on his 15 years of business background with blood banks and project management, along with his 20 years of leadership experience on the state’s Banking and Insurance Committee and within the National Conference of State Legislators — roles that have involved negotiating on product liability, medical malpractice, insolvency, state budget, department contracts and other matters.

“I am a person who gets along with others and likes to find solutions,” Ennis told Insurance Journal. He said he is proud to have received an joint award from the medical, trial bar and hospital industries calling him the “great conciliator” for his work on malpractice insurance issues.
Denn said his priorities would include the cost and availability of health care; the cost and availability of auto and home owners insurance; and advocacy for individual policy holders.

Ennis also places health insurance near the top of his priority list. He said he would work to attract new health insurance products and promote healthier lifestyles. Another top issue for Ennis is operating the state agency in a manner that is “user friendly” for consumers, employees, insurance agents and companies. “They are the clients deserving of quality service from the Department of Insurance,” he said.
Neither candidate is highly critical of the current commissioner, Williams, or her tenure but each sees room for improvement and would stress his own priorities.

Ennis told Insurance Journal that he is impressed with the DOI’s elder information program where he said three staff members have in turn trained more than 50 volunteers in the intricacies of Medicare. They visit senior centers to counsel and assist senior citizens in with Medicare issues and claims. “Perhaps we can commit more energy to that,” Ennis said.

He also thinks that the elder information program may serve as a model for a similar special needs information unit to assist citizens facing insurance concerns because they suffer from chronic illnesses such as juvenile diabetes.

Ennis is uncomfortable over the way the insurance department currently awards and funds contracts for company examinations. Noting that this had been a problem in the past, he says he will review the procedures and the fees to make sure they are competitive and fair.

Denn told Insurance Journal that incumbent Williams has done a good job in the agency licensing area and also praised her performance in policing insurer solvency. However, Denn said he wants to do better in preventing insurance fraud that drives up costs. He also vows to be a more visible commissioner and advocate for individual policyholders.

Insurance Journal also asked about other issues:

Campaign Funding
Regarding campaign funding, Denn criticizes commissioners who accept contributions from insurance interests. “An insurance commissioner who allows his or her campaign to be subsidized by the insurance industry cannot be a fair regulator, and cannot be an advocate for Delaware policyholders with the insurance industry… I will not accept campaign contributions from insurance company executives,” Denn states on his web site.

As for Ennis, he said he believes the law blocks contributions from any party “indemnifying” an insurance product, but that individual company employees and agents may contribute. “I would welcome their contributions and it would not ’tilt’ my positions in any way,” Ennis told the insurance publication.

Auto Insurance
Denn, citing statistics that the state’s average auto rate is the sixth highest in the country, thinks auto rates may need to be scrutinized more closely. “Delaware’s rates should be reasonable: we have only an average number of auto accidents in our state, and our juries are very conservative when it comes to awarding damages to auto accident victims,” he maintained. He vowed to crack down on uninsured drivers.

Ennis cited the need to get at the “permanent population” that contributes to losses and the need to address rising premiums for uninsured motorists coverage.

Credit Scoring
Denn opposes insurers’ use of credit scoring which is actually now permitted in the state within certain parameters. While he feels he could probably change the rules by regulation, Denn said he would prefer to have the legislature enact a ban on credit scoring. The state Senate defeated a measure for such a ban last session.

Ennis, citing personal experience of a friend who suffered credit scoring problems following a divorce, said he does not oppose credit scoring but does believe there have to be consumer protections. “We have to find a way to give consumers an easy way to challenge a credit score,” he said.

Elected vs. Appointed Commissioner
Ennis acknowledges that years ago he supported an appointed position, one that would go even beyond the governor’s own term. But he now thinks that only makes sense in conjunction with a more sweeping reorganization of the state’s financial services regulatory apparatus involving banking and securities as well as insurance. Either elected or appointed is fine with him.

Denn is fine with either as well. “There are pros and cons to electing insurance commissioner. The upside is that voters s get direct input and in a small state like Delaware this can be very helpful,” noted Denn. “The down side is there are people and entities who can gain access through the campaigns who maybe should not have direct access.” If the legislature wants to change the system to an appointed one, Denn said he would have no problem with that.

For the complete report on the candidates for Delaware’s insurance commisisoner post, see the Sept. 6 edition of Insurance Journal East.

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