Georgia Insurance Commissioner Race: Top Priorities, State Role, Money

October 20, 2010

One candidate to be Georgia ‘s next insurance commissioner thinks the state should build on its risk management schools to become a national leader in alternative risk transfer innovation. Another wants the state to eliminate its tax on premiums and all health insurance mandates. The third vows to fight Obamacare and any federal intrusion into state insurance matters.

Insurance Journal recently surveyed the three candidates and the survey included asking them what their three top priorities would be if they are chosen to be commissioner by voters on Nov. 2. (The first report from the survey published Oct. 19 covered the candidates’ views on credit scoring, emergency response fees and legislated caps on malpractice awards.)

The candidates are:

  • Mary Squires, a Democrat, National Guard veteran, former member of both the House and the Senate, and an association executive who is currently executive director of the Georgia Society of Professional Benefit Administrators, Inc., a self-insured health care trade association.
  • State Sen. Ralph Hudgens, a small business owner and former House Republican member (elected in 1996), who has been in the state Senate since in 2002. He has served as chairman of the Insurance and Labor Committee and vice chairman of the Banking and Financial Institution.
  • Shane Bruce, an installer of industrial steel structures for material handling operations for a company in Atlanta and a well-known Libertarian political blogger on his site, Bludgeon & Skewer.

3 Priorities

Sen. Hudgens said his priorities will be: consumer education, fighting insurance fraud, and opposing Obamacare and expansion of the federal government.

According to Hudgens, the commissioner has the responsibility to create a level playing field for buyers and sellers of insurance products. “A good regulator blows the whistle and keeps all the players following the rules of the game. If a consumer knows the rules and is fully informed, I trust them to make the decision that is best for their family,” he said.

He said he would be involved in opposing President Obama’s health care plan. “I am deeply concerned about the new federal health care take over. It is obvious that the Democrats just do not fundamentally believe in the power of the marketplace and consumer choice,” he said.

For his priorities, Libertarian Bruce said he will focus on reducing the cost of auto insurance in the state, drawing attention to the state’s premium tax and health insurance coverage mandates, and modernizing the commissioner’s operations.

“As I see it, the Commissioner of Insurance is charged with ensuring that Georgia citizens get the best bang for their insurance dollars that they can. That means that Georgians have to have viable choices from a wide range of providers at competitive prices,” Bruce wrote.

He said the state insurance regulator must serve people of the state, “not the interests of the companies he is responsible for regulating.”

Bruce said he would utilize the bully pulpit of the office to educate Georgians on the “horrendous effects our ultra high insurance premium tax has had on keeping new providers out of Georgia as well as the negative effects of our 45 health insurance mandates.”

In terms of operations, Bruce vowed to perform “a stem to stern, top to bottom review of the office’s current procedures, personnel and assets and drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”

“The primary job of Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner is to protect consumers, and provide a fair and efficient competitive regulatory environment,” according to Democrat Squires.

Squires said her first priority if elected would be to implement a department-wide ban on lobbyist gifts, travel, meals, and other influences.

Next she said she would work to make the state a national insurance and risk finance hub. “Georgia has two of the best risk management schools in the country. Let’s increase competition in the insurance market and bring new jobs to Georgia. Georgia can be a national leader in alternative risk transfer innovation and regulated change. Not only will innovative competition save money, it will open new markets and strengthen our economy,” Squires said.

Third, Squires wants to establish an around-the-clock customer service and crisis command center. “Emergencies and questions don’t just happen during business hours,” she said.

Role of State

The candidates were asked what they think the role of state government should be in making health insurance available and affordable.

Bruce used the question to criticize all government intrusion into the industry.

“By intervening in our state’s health insurance markets, our state and federal governments have limited competition, increased prices and reduced choice. A truly free market approach would have the opposite effect,” he wrote.

For Squires, the state has a role to play in regulating health insurance products. “The Insurance Commissioner must make sure that consumers are protected, that rates are properly regulated, and that a fair and efficient competitive environment is established and maintained,” she stated.

Hudgens, who sponsored legislation block the federal government from forcing Georgia citizens into buying health insurance, is less concerned about the role of state government than he is about the role of the federal government. He supports letting insurers market health products across state lines. “The answer to our health insurance challenges can be found in the free enterprise not some government run program,” Hudgens stated.

Political Contributions

Georgia law currently forbids public officials from taking money from the companies they regulate. All three candidates say they support the law. Hudgens and Squires said they do not think it necessary to also ban all contributions from insurance agents and industry employees.

“I believe our current law is sufficient in regard to who can and cannot donate to a candidate for insurance commissioner,” said Hudgens.

“I agree with the law forbidding public officials from taking money from the companies they regulate. I don’t believe that individuals, including agents or employees, should be prohibited from giving to any candidate they choose to support for public office,” wrote Squires.

But Bruce, whose Libertarian Party traditionally opposes government restraints, had a different take on the current law and why candidates should not take money from industry employees:

“Georgia law forbids it but my opponents routinely ignore the requirements of the law by emphasizing that they are taking campaign contributions from citizens. The fact that those citizens own and operate insurance firms the Commissioner regulates is treated a secondary matter. From my perspective, this is a question of principle. If you intend to be a fair and impartial regulator, you cannot be influenced by those you will regulate. I have refused to take contributions from anyone in the insurance, small loan industry or any other activity regulated by the Office of the Commissioner. I have also called on my opponents to return any contributions they have received from those sources. The silence has been deafening,” he wrote.

This is Part 2 of the 3 part series on Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner candidates.

Don’t miss: Part 1: Where They Stand On Credit Scoring, Tort Reform

Next, Part 3: Candidates’ views on the role of commissioner in attracting new insurers, independent agents, and whether the job will be a political stepping stone for them.

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