NU Online News Service, Jan. 28, 2004, 11:05 a.m. EST – Consumer advocate Robert Hunter is blasting a decision by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators to restrict public access to its Web site.[@@]

Hunter is assailing the Albany, N.Y., group because he says it represents public servants who should be serving the public with open access to information.

The decision to restrict access “is an unnecessary barrier to erect between NCOIL and the public, especially from an organization dominated by insurance company delegates at your meetings and heavily made up of part-time legislators who are full-time insurance industry employees,” Hunter says.

NCOIL has announced that starting Feb. 1 it will be using a password system to control access to its Web site, at http://www.ncoil.org. Committee working drafts will remain open to the public until adopted by NCOIL.

Once a model is adopted, NCOIL will charge a fee for access. NCOIL also will charge for access to issue papers and meeting minutes. A fee schedule will be decided in roughly a week, according to NCOIL spokesman Candace Frick.

Hunter says NCOIL is “a bad organization that is dominated by industry interests and is so anti-consumer.”

NCOIL now waives a few meeting fees for consumer representatives, Hunter concedes. But, unlike the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo., NCOIL does not cover consumer rep expenses, Hunter says.

Hunter says such a stance could hurt state legislators as they argue the case for state regulation rather than federal oversight.

Frick says the decision about Web access is unlikely to be changed given the “overwhelming vote” to limit the site to those who attend NCOIL meetings and those state legislators that are members of NCOIL.

“Any time there is a change in policy, there is likely to be some criticism,” Frick says. “Bob Hunter has frequently commented that NCOIL is in the pocket of the insurance industry, and that is not true.”

When the policy is fully implemented, people will see that it is okay, Frick says.

NCOIL reaffirms that it ultimately represents the consumer, Frick adds.

Frick notes that NCOIL waived meeting fees for 3 funded consumer reps at its last meeting and will waive fees for at least 1 more rep at its meeting in San Antonio at the end of February. Travel and expenses cannot be funded because there is simply not the money in the budget, Frick says.

Frick says the Web access decision would not affect the debate over state and federal regulation of insurance.