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November 5, 2012

For the insurance industry, there is more at stake in the Nov. 6 election than who goes to or stays in the White House and Congress.

The insurance industry will be watching who wins the guberantorial races in 11 states, which parties control state legislatures, which justices are elected to serve on state courts, and who will be elected insurance commissioner in five states. The insurance industry will also be watching the fate of a number of state ballot measures involving insurance.

There will be unusually high turnover in legislative seats around the country this year, probably more than 25 percent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which says more than 6,000 legislative seats are at stake in the Nov. 6 election. The Republican Party control controls more than 59 of the 98 state chambers that are organized by partisan affiliation; Democrats control 36; and three are tied. NCSL projects there are about 20 chambers with a likely chance of switching control and says states to watch include Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New York and Washington.

Montana, North Dakota, North Carolina, Washington and Delaware have races for insurance commissioner.

The insurance industry and other business lobbies will be watching the races for state Supreme Court justices. According to the Brennan Center on Justice, there are 46 court contests in 20 states in 2012 including on Nov. 6 in Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana and North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington and West Virginia. Also, 13 states will be voting on whether to retain existing Supreme Court judges; these states include races in Florida, Indiana, Maryland and Nebraska.

Also, according to NCSL, 38 states will consider a total of 174 statewide measures on legalizing marijuana, same-sex marriage, casinos, education funding, taxes and healthcare. The biggest for the industry may be California’s Proposition 33 on auto insurance.

 Healthcare Questions

A number of states have ballot questions asking their opinions on healthcare reform and Obamacare. They include Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Montana, and Wyoming.

The Montana Health Care Amendment, LR-122, would allow Montanans to decide whether they want health insurance, and which health insurance to buy. The measure is the supporter’s preemptive strike against the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The Wyoming Health Care Amendment would do the same thing for Wyoming. The proposed amendment states: “No federal or state law, rule or administrative decision shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer or health care provider to participate in any health care system.”

Supporters of the Montana proposal, including Gary MacLaren, a Republican member of the Montana House of Representatives who introduced and first pushed the measure, say forcing people to buy health insurance is in essence punishing people who are poor by making them pay.

Opponents say the amendments are a waste of time because the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

Alabama voters will have an opportunity to express their views on the Affordable Care Act although the result will not have any significant legal impact. Alabama’s Amendment 6, if approved by a majority of voters Tuesday, would prohibit any person, employer or health care provider from being compelled to participate in any health care system. State Democratic Party Chairman Mark Kennedy, a former justice on the Alabama Supreme Court, told The Associated Press that the Republican-backed amendment “is a slap in the face to the president of the United States,” but it has no legal impact because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

State Insurance Contests

Here are some of the state races the insurance industry will be watching:

California

An automobile insurance persistency initiative will likely be the top issue the insurance industry will be paying attention to on California’s ballot in the Nov. 6 election.

When it’s boiled down Proposition 33 is a battle between two men. On the left is Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Consumer Watchdog and author of Proposition 103, the 1988 initiative that now heavily regulates the state’s auto insurance industry. On the right is Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph, who has sunk a reported $16 million into this initiative and a similar one in 2010.

Joseph says the initiative is consumer friendly in that it allows motorists to take the persistency discount they get from their insurers and shop it around to other carriers for the best rate. It benefits Mercury by allowing the carrier to get customers from other insurers, according to Joseph.

But Rosenfield and Consumer Watchdog have argued that Prop. 33 would undermine the consumer protections in Prop. 103 and would unfairly punish drivers without a history of auto insurance. They have also launched political attacks linking the initiative with everything from the terrorist attacks on a U.S. embassy in Libya to racism and class discrimination. They have portrayed Joseph as a billionaire with a Capt. Ahab-like obsession and persistency as the Mercury founder’s white whale.

A previous attempt on this persistency issue, Prop. 17, was narrowly defeated in 2010, but Prop. 33 has language added protecting military serving overseas and those who’s auto insurance has lapsed due to the economy. The rematch is on.

Delaware

Delawareans will be voting for their state’s insurance commissioner. Democratic incumbent Karen Weldin Stewart will face Republican challenger Benjamin Mobley, a financial consultant.

The third time was the charm for Stewart, who won the race to become Delaware’s insurance commissioner in 2008 after unsuccessful attempts in 2004 and 2000. In last September’s Democratic primary, she narrowly beat out three challengers.

This race looks to be a nail-biter. Recent polls showed Stewart in dead heat with Republican challenger Mobley.

Montana

The Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, Montana State Auditor is a state executive position in the Montana state government.

The current officeholder is Monica Lindeen, a Democrat, who assumed office in 2009 after four terms in Montana’s legislature. Lindeen says her top priorities will be to make health insurance more transparent and affordable, strengthen consumer protections, and preserve Montana’s right to regulate insurance and securities. She has asked the legislature to create a state-based health insurance exchange and to give the state the power to review health-insurance rate increases.

Her opponent is Republican Derek Skees, a member of the Montana House of Representatives since 2011. His says he is tired of large insurance companies and the federal government dictating insurance regulatory policy in the state. He says government involvement in insurance should be restricted to protecting consumers from fraud. He thinks the state can do better than Obamacare.

According to polls, Lindeen has an edge against Skees.

North Carolina

Republican Mike Causey is challenging incumbent Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, a Democrat. Causey’s pitch includes his opposition to Obamacare and a vow to attract more insurers to write insurance, particularly for homes, in the state by relaxing regulation.

Goodwin touts his crackdown on insurance fraud that includes more than 600 arrests and more than 330 convictions. He argues that there are more insurers in the state now than when he took office but that insurers shy away from the state because of its storm risk and relaxing regulations won’t attract more to the market.

Republican leaders who secured majorities in both chambers of the North Carolina Legislature for the first time in 140 years after the 2010 elections appear poised to preserve much of those gains in 2012, thanks in part to redistricting the party engineered, according to The Associated Press.

North Dakota

North Dakota has an insurance commissioner election on the ballot. Incumbent Republican Adam Hamm is seeking re-election in this Republican-leaning state. His Democratic opponent is Tom Potter, a former professor of finance at the University of North Dakota. Hamm is running on a three-C platform: common sense insurance regulation; consumer protection; and competitive insurance market.

Policyholder rights, management of North Dakota’s $5 billion investment fund, the impact of North Dakota’s oil boom on insurance matters in the state and making health insurance more affordable are top issues listed in Potter’s campaign materials.

Oregon

Measure 77 in Oregon would amend the state’s constitution allowing the governor to declare “catastrophic disaster.” The measure authorizes suspending specified constitutional spending restrictions, and the result of a majority of “yes” votes would also allow the legislature to suspend specified constitutional spending restrictions to aid in response and recovery.

Currently the governor has statutory authority to declare a state of emergency, with constitutional spending restrictions and constitutional restrictions on legislative authority without exception for emergency. Passing the measure would mean the governor could redirect previously allocated general fund and lottery monies to a disaster response.

Washington

When Incumbent Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler won 55 percent of the vote in August to take the primary in his re-election bid for state insurance commissioner, it was a solid sign that he is on his way to bragging rights to the U.S.’s longest currently serving insurance commissioner.

The Democrat Kreidler, a former state legislator and former member of Congress, is running for his fourth term in office. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, that would put him in a class by himself as the longest serving insurance commissioner in recent memory.

Kriedler beat three challengers in August, with insurance broker John Adams, a Republican, getting the second most votes. The two pair off for a final race Nov. 6.

Washington voters also face a non-binding ballot initiative asking whether they want to continue the funding of the state’s Pollution Liability Agency beyond 2020 when it is scheduled to expire. The agency is funded by a fee on sellers of certain petroleum products.


Re-blogged from: Insurance Journal


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