P/C Insurers Like Some of Obama’s State of Union Promises

January 27, 2011

Property/casualty insurers found things to like in President Obama’s State of the Union speech that was largely focused on the economy and business.

Medical malpractice reform, regulatory review, and trade agreements— these issues in particular that were mentioned by President Obama are ones the insurers hope the administration and Congress will pursue.

“The president has recognized that, in many cases, needless government regulation is hurting businesses more than it is helping consumers,” said Jimi Grande, senior vice president of federal and political affairs for National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC). “As the president calls on American businesses to ‘win the future,’ he must allow them to compete. Eliminating needless regulations and reducing the federal burden on businesses must be a priority.”

Specifically, NAMIC said it supports the president’s call to correct what he called a “flaw in the legislation” that requires businesses to file a 1099 form with the Internal Revenue Service for any annual business expenditure to a single vendor of over $600.

“We welcome the president’s call for repeal of the 1099 provision in last year’s healthcare law, which he recognized places a needless burden on small businesses, and we hope that Congress will swiftly allow him to sign a repeal of the provision into law,” Grande said.

The president also expressed a willingness to “look at” reforming the tort system for medical liability claims. Grande hopes the president does more than just look.

“[L]ooking alone won’t protect our nation’s doctors from being hit with frivolous lawsuits or drive down medical costs,” Grande said. “We urge the president to support meaningful medical liability tort reforms and actively work with Congress to pass legislation that will reduce the need for defensive medicine and encourage doctors to work in higher risk specialties vital to our nation’s health.”

Medical malpractice reform is also on the wish list of the American Insurance Association.

“The business of insurance operates best when there is a predictable tort climate and a stable litigation system. We will be watching carefully to see whether the administration follows through in this area,” said Leigh Ann Pusey, president and CEO of the AIA.

Pusey said her group also was encouraged that President Obama reinforced his recent order of a government-wide review of the current regulations. She urged government at all levels to heed the call.

“Now, with the president clearly supporting and underscoring the critical relationship between balanced regulation and jobs, it is our hope that federal agencies will act accordingly, and that the NAIC [National Association of Insurance Commissioners] and state insurance regulators will apply the same message into their efforts,” she said.

The president also urged Congress to approve pending trade pacts with key countries, something insurers would like to see happen.

“Importantly, AIA was pleased to see the president highlight the pending U.S. free trade agreement with South Korea and the other outstanding agreements with Panama and Colombia,” said Pusey. “An open insurance market in Korea is commercially significant for U.S. companies as its insurance market is one of the top 10 largest in the world. Trade agreements are a crucial component to maintaining America’s competitiveness abroad.”

Both the president in his speech as well as Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in the Republican response acknowledged a desire to streamline the bureaucracy of Washington. But NAMIC’s Grande said that accomplishing this streamlining and the president’s State of the Union objectives would require bipartisanship.

“After the elections of last November, members of both parties have a choice to make between working together to serve the American people, or engaging in partisan bickering that accomplishes nothing,” Grande said.

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