State Official Criticizes Mendoza’s Consumer Protection Efforts

October 15, 2002

Comparing Republican Insurance Commissioner Candidate Gary Mendoza’s consumer protection efforts to an Edsel, Steven Fisher criticized Mendoza’s toll-free help line in a letter to the editor of the Sacramento Bee on Oct. 5. According to Fisher, Deputy Director of the Department of Managed Health Care, thousands of consumers who sought help from the Department of Corporations’ 800 number were reportedly forced to hang up because no one at Mendoza’s department answered the line. Fisher also noted that the Department allegedly did not act for more than a month on nearly 60 percent of those consumers who were connected.

Mendoza has made his establishment of a toll-free help line the centerpiece of his campaign. According to the Bureau of State Audits, “Mendoza’s toll-free line was a connection to ‘indifferent customer service,'” Fisher wrote.

Former Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi established a toll-free help line that handled consumer complaints in over 30 languages. Garamendi’s help-line, established several years earlier, was part of the work that groups including the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and Consumers Union called the best consumer protection agency in America.

“I’m obviously very proud of the steps we took to protect patients’ interests,” Mendoza told Insurance Journal. “The establishment of the 800 number program was an important part of those efforts. It was one of the first 800 number programs in the country to go forward. It’s now a cornerstone of the Department of Managed Healthcare’s jurisdiction. Now the Department has had a five-fold increase in its budget, compared to the department that I ran. They’ve been able to augment that program, but it wouldn’t exist had it not been for our effort.

“I’m not surprised that John Garamendi was able to get a political appointee of a regulatory department to fire in a letter that politicizes what was an important step in the interest of California consumers,” Mendoza continued.

“If it was an emergency situation, we responded in real time. If it was a health care situation that required immediate attention, that situation got immediate attention. If it was an issue that could be resolved in a more deliberate fashion, we did take more time to resolve that concern. It’s a statement that may be consistent with the facts, but in context was irrelevant. I think the department of Managed Healthcare should pay more attention to regulating HMO’s and less attention to political spin.”

To see the full text of Fisher’s Letter to the Editor, please visit

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