The runoff election for the Republican candidate for the state Insurance Commissioner of Georgia has been won by State Sen. Ralph T. Hudgens.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Hudgens had 55 percent of the vote, while his opponent Maria Sheffield had 45 percent.
A major issue in the race for the job has been health insurance and whether Georgia will comply with the federal reform that requires states to set up an insurance pool for high-risk people who have been uninsured for six months. Current Insurance Commissioner John W. Oxendine has refused to set up the pools.
Hudgens has publically opposed the present reform plans. But, in a snafu that Sheffield made much of, Hudgens said on the radio that the insurance commissioner cannot do “squat” about health care reform. The statement went out over an internet feed. The microphone was turned on. Hudgens did not know it was on.
Later, Hudgens, who is the chair of the state Senate’s Insurance and Labor Committee, embraced the comment. The commissioner is an administrator, not a policy maker, he said.
Hudgens will face Democrat Mary Squires in the November election.
Squires, who is currently the executive director of the Georgia Society of Professional Benefit Administrators, Inc,, and a former state senator, said that the main issue in the race to the November elections will be how to make sure the insurance department stops being the “lap dog” of the insurance industry.
She said the department has not been serving the needs of consumers.
“People are worried about their pocket books,” she said. “We have to protect consumers.”
She also says that Georgia already has high-risk pools for health insurance that would satisfy the federal mandates, and that it has been wrong for Commissioner Oxendine to refuse to comply when the pools exist. Those pools were created years ago, she said, as part of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
“We’ve now got two excellent candidates for Insurance Commissioner,” said Jerry W. Duke, executive vice president of Professional Insurance Agents of Georgia, which does not endorse individual candidates.
Other issues, in addition to health care, that are bound to be discussed during the coming campaigns are modernizing the insurance department, which is widely seen to be in need of it, and fraud investigation, Duke said. Currently, the Department has only three investigators for the entire state, he said.