Tim versus the Insurance Agents

Here's one I caught wind of recently that you haven't read in the papers.

Apparently a war of correspondence has been simmering in the last week or so between U.S. Senator Tim Johnson and Larry Ahrendt, Executive Vice President of the South Dakota Association of Insurance Agents.

As I'm told, this started with Senator Johnson's questioning of a witness at a banking committee hearing exploring the possibility of the Federal Government taking over the regulation of the insurance industry from states. Basically, this would continue the trend of eroding states rights over insurance plans that began several years back with ERISA legislation.

What's ERISA you ask? Think self-funded health plans. Because of a section in the federal ERISA legislation, those self funded plans are exempt from state laws that dictate what is covered, what isn't, etc. And if your plan doesn't cover something you (or state law) think it should, you basically have no recourse except to sue your employer. Despite the fact they've given plan authority over to a third-party administrator who is actually the one denying the claim.

In other words, unless you want to sue your employer, you're screwed.

How do I know all that? After six years at the State Division of Insurance during the 1990's, believe it or not, I managed to pick up a thing or two. We'd get letters from the congressional delegation all the time seeking assistance for constituents in a tough spot because of health insurance problems, and we'd have to send them right back to the congressional delegation as soon as we saw they were ERISA plans.

Yup, Congress said states couldn't touch it, at the same time the feds wouldn't. A Catch-22 and the poor insured is stuck in the middle.

So anyway, the Banking Committee is undergoing hearings to determine if they want to bring this type of regulatory structure to your auto, homeowners, and life insurance. And the war of words with the South Dakota agents began with Senator Johnson noting during the questioning of a witness that "Having some kind of federal standard or federal regulator may in fact be on the side of consumer protection."

That comment seemed to get the SD insurance agents steamed. And the agents noted that it was followed up in the Johnson summation with another comment indicating that "without a federal regulator to protect the consumer- fraud and incompetency would continue" rubbed a little more salt in that new wound.

And as you'll note in the e-mail that went out to agents, they're also contending that Senator Johnson has also been a recipient of $100,000 from the PAC's of proponents of the legislation.

If you hadn't guessed by now, the agents group is a tad bit miffed. And per their e-mail, the insurance agents' battle cry is "There are better ways to reform the insurance industry which would not create another layer of federal bureacracy, and without negatively affecting a state's right."

The follow up was an almost immediate letter from Senator Johnson where it seems he didn't appreciate the flavor of Larry's comments. As you can read below, Johnson called them "blatant falsehoods" and noted that he was "deeply disappointed in the shameful development and hope that you will correct the misinformation you have been generating amongst your members." Ouch. And that was only the beginning.

Towards the end of the letter, Johnson also noted that "it does little to bolster you membership's position when you engage in deceptive representations and send scurrilous communications to your members that have no basis in fact." Wooo.... That keyboard must have been smoking when that letter was cranked out.

And on August 2nd, Larry went back at the Senator and said if there's a falsehood or scurrilous comment to point them out, and he'd be happy to respond. But otherwise, they aren't budging on thier opinion that Senator Johnson favors a federal, rather than a local system of regulation. Read Larry's latest letter here.

Not sure what to think? Here's the information on the Hearings, and here's the video testimony that you can watch for yourself. (Real Media format).

This might actually prove to be a valid issue against the Senator in the 2008 US Senate race. Adding to the federal bureaucracy and infringing on states' rights is not something I'd want to sell to South Dakotans.

Otherwise, as you're making up your mind for yourself on this topic, think about how you'd like a complaint against an auto insurance company or agent handled - from a trained staff in Pierre with decades of experience with companies and agents, or a federal office in Kansas city handling a "region?"

The choice is yours.


Anonymous said…
Pierre? and you think that would be better? I guess Rounds could create another 1000 state government job to handle the disputes. To the credit of Rounds at least the avg. st. gov. job pays 10k more than the avg. for the hard working tax paying private sector employee.
Anonymous said…
I really appreciate Gov. Rounds holding our State employees job positions open for two weeks so that they can return to work and draw a full pension. I wonder if State employees rank 50th like the rest of us South Dakotans?
PP said…
Anon #1, are you not paying attention? They do it in Pierre now, as they have for decades. With minimal staff. This is the system we *currently* have.

And the feds want to take it out of our hands and make it an additional *new* level of federal bureaucracy.

(Good lord, read the post before you comment.)
Anonymous said…
Is this the first time Tiny Tim has been "deeply disappointed"? Isn't he usually "deeply saddened"?

It's a new day in the world of bigger government.

The only time I remember him ever expressing optimism was when he discussed how "sweet" it would be "when the Taliban wing of the Republican Party" learned that Stephanie Herseth won on June 2, 2004.

"...the Taliban wing..." That must include those who favor a limited central government, and state/local control of issues not expressly granted to the federal government by the US Constitution.
Anonymous said…
" "...the Taliban wing..." That must include those who favor a limited central government, and state/local control of issues not expressly granted to the federal government by the US Constitution."

Yup. That's us.
Douglas said…
Well, interesting issue already attracting "anonymous" posts. PP appears to have found an issue with some substance against Johnson.

So, what comes out of the comments? Reference to the "Taliban" republicans as if that applied to Republicans who supported small efficient government. Pretty good strawman argument, but has nothing to do with Johnson's original and appropriate comment that he promptly waffled on.

"Taliban" Republicans are those who think that exploiting religion for partisan purposes is appropriate. While mouthing opposition to big brother government, "Taliban" Republicans support intrusive government attacks on fundamental freedom and privacy.

"Taliban Republican" does not refer to "pocket-book" conservatives. It applies to Republicans supporting theocratic and inappropriate mixing of church and state without regard to disastrous public policy consequences.

Now off to Dakota Today to provide a link to PP's bit of reporting here even if I don't view the functioning of the SD Insurance Office quite so benignly as he does.
Anonymous said…
From Anon #1
PP - Thanks for pointing that out. I guess we both have point; however, mine has nothing to do with the post and yours does (Ha!Ha!). But my point is that Rounds is a BIG GOVERNMENT Democrat with a Republican label.
Anonymous said…
Amendment E is the solution to "No Recourse"

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