What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Insurance is hottest seat in the state


-- The Democratic and Republican opponents of Insurance Commissioner George Dale say change is long overdue, but Dale says his 32 years' experience is what Mississippi needs at a critical time.

"We're pretty well stressing the fact that this is a very delicate time dealing with consumer and property insurance in this state," Dale said in a recent interview. "We feel like this office can be better served by someone who has experience."

His Democratic opponent, Gary Anderson, along with Republicans Mike Chaney and Ronnie English, believe Dale's experience has drawn him too close to the industry he regulates. They advocate a more consumer-friendly approach at a time when Katrina, the nation's costliest disaster, has exposed flaws with public and private insurance coverage.

"Mr. Dale has just not done anything over the years to try to protect the taxpayers," English said.

All three opponents say they have refused to accept campaign contributions from insurance companies, which Dale does.

"I want to establish a business relationship with insurance companies, not a cozy relationship where I'm taking money from them," said Anderson, a lobbyist and member of former Gov. Ray Mabus' administration.

State Sen. Mike Chaney believes Mississippi's insurance commissioner should be appointed, which is the case in most states. "The reason is real simple," Chaney said, "I don't know how many people can take dollars from the insurance companies every four years to run for this position and still be impartial in their judgment in regulation of the companies."

All four candidates agree the next insurance commissioner needs to work on the affordability and availability of insurance. Dale's opponents also say they want to find more funding for rural fire protection.

The insurance commissioner is charged with licensing and regulating insurers. He also serves as state fire marshal, and licenses and regulates burial associations, motor clubs, bail bondsmen, and mobile home manufacturers and dealers.

Anderson faces Dale in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary. Chaney, a Vicksburg developer and businessman, will square off against English, a Northrop Grumman fire marshal from Vancleave, in the Republican primary. Winners advance to the Nov. 6 general election.

Dale vs. Anderson

It's easy to say you want to lower insurance rates and improve the market, Dale said, but not so easy to do.

Predictability is one thing insurance companies must have, he said, pointing out that his philosophy and personality are familiar to the industry.

"The philosophy is that I attempt to be fair," he said, " be aggressive in helping the consumer, but at the same time fair with the companies. I try to walk that thin line between the consumer and the companies, which is a difficult line to walk."

Dale believes he can persuade insurers to return to the Coast with wind coverage, available for many property owners only through the state wind pool, the insurer of last resort.

Unlike other candidates, Dale is not promising lower rates, but said more competition in the market should help.

"A lot of people have a misconception that we just pull rates out of the air," he said. "Rates have to be actuarially sound. They're based on experience and we have some control, but at the same time we have no control over what causes these rates.

"The very trite and smart-aleck answer would be you could reduce rates on the Coast if we had fewer hurricanes."

Anderson also sees the cost of insurance as one of the most pressing issues in 2007 and believes competition is the answer. Anderson said a vibrant economy is a major selling point that will allow him to market Mississippi to insurance companies.

"We've got to create an environment where there is more competition within the insurance industry and then we'll also have lower insurance premiums," Anderson said. "The cost of insurance is out of reach for many households, so we need to make sure we do the things that make it become more affordable in our state."

Anderson also promises to expand fraud detection, especially because pitchmen are selling elderly Mississippians supplemental Medicare plans that actually replace their coverage at higher prices.

He also wants to require insurers to offer discounts for those who meet stronger building codes and said he will study a stronger policyholder bill of rights, but is not making any promises.

"I would want to study those things that are consumer friendly and make sense from an industry standpoint," he said. "I'm not prone to knee-jerk reactions."

Chaney vs. English

Chaney, a legislator since 1993, believes consumers should be able to track an insurance company's claims payment record on the Mississippi Department of Insurance Web site: He said the department should rank insurance companies based on the number of claims filed and paid.

He also supports a stronger policyholder's bill of rights. A bill of rights Dale put into place provides homeowners a checklist of what their insurance policy covers and lists rights to which policyholders already are entitled.

In the Legislature, Chaney worked for approval of stronger building codes and for a program that will allow the state wind pool to reduce rates for those who build to stronger standards. He also says he would work with other states that face similar insurance issues to form a coalition that would be in a better bargaining position than Mississippi alone.

Chaney also believes insurance companies should be required to offer homeowner and commercial property policies if they want to sell automobile policies here.

He hopes to lower fire insurance ratings through better training and would seek federal funding sources.

"Whether I win or lose in this race," he said, "I've already made a difference."

English jumped into the insurance commissioner's race because of the problems he saw after Katrina.

"We have to hold these insurance companies accountable," he said. He believes insurance companies were too eager to write off damage to storm surge covered by federal flood insurance rather than wind damage the companies have to pay.

"The wind beat for hours on these structures even before the water got here," he said, "but yet these insurance companies want to lay everything off on water."

He also believes insurers should be required to assume more risk if they want to sell policies for lower risks.

He doesn't like having a state wind pool. "Really, I think an insurance company should be covering the wind damage and I don't think the taxpayers should be picking it up," he said, pointing to industry profits even with major disasters in 2004 and 2005.

"They're putting profit ahead of paying these claims," English said, "and I don't think it's right."

He also thinks tax dollars should be spent to provide better equipment and more funding for fire departments.


Meet the candidates.
Four candidates are running for state insurance commissioner. They are:

• Democrats
Gary Anderson of Jackson

Current occupation: Governmental relations, financial analysis and economic development consultant, The Anderson Co., LLC., 1997 to present.

Highest educational degree: Master's degree, University of Mississippi, 1980.

Personal: 51 years old, married.

Why I'm running: "I am running for insurance commissioner because I want to bring a fair deal to Mississippi's insurance ratepayers. As the next insurance commissioner, I will work to stabilize the insurance market and increase competition so we can lower insurance premiums; I will be independent of insurance companies and I will fight for everyday families who insurance rate increases hurt the most."

George Dale of Clinton

Current occupation: Commissioner of Insurance, 1975 to present.

Highest educational degree: Master's degree, Mississippi College.

Personal: Married, five children.

Why I'm running: "For the past 32 years, I have dedicated my life to making sure Mississippi has a viable insurance market. In this time of complex issues, Mississippians need and deserve someone who can help guide them through a very fragile insurance market with the experience and patience that I bring to the office of Commissioner of Insurance."

Mike Chaney of Vicksburg

Current occupation: District 23 state senator, 2000 to present.

Highest educational degree: Bachelor's degree in business-marketing-finance, Mississippi State University, 1966.

Personal: Married, three children.

Why I'm running: "I am running to ensure that all Mississippians have available and affordable insurance and that they received fair treatment from the insurance companies that take their premiums. I will be an advocate for the 2.9 million plus citizens of Mississippi and not any special interest group."

Ronnie D. English of Vancleave

Current occupation: Fire marshal.

Highest educational degree: Attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Personal: 63 years old, married, one child.

Why I'm running: "I am running to give the citizens of Mississippi an insurance commissioner that is not controlled or obligated by the insurance industry in Mississippi."

Original article in Sun Herald published July 29, 2007.

Return to A.M. in the Morning! Home

No comments: