NU Online News Service, March 15, 2004, 6:11 p.m. EST, New York – Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, told insurance commissioners here that federal lawmakers are thinking about a “federal tools” approach to congressional oversight.[@@]

Oxley delivered the address during the Commissioners Roundtable at the spring meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo.

The meeting was closed, but interviews with regulators who heard Oxley suggest that the House Financial Services Committee, the committee that Oxley chairs, will not support a bill that would establish a federal charter, a federal regulator or a dual state-federal regulatory system.

The committee plans to consider federal insurance oversight March 31.

Oxley said Congress might develop federal regulatory tools that would build on work already being done by the NAIC. According to the regulators who heard the speech, the government could set up a federal coordinating council and name a federal appointee to head the council, but such an appointee would have no regulatory authority. State regulators would still be considered the experts on insurance regulation.

Oxley contemplates a “full federal-state partnership,” and he singled out the “excellent work” of the regulators developing the State Electronic Rate and Form Filing System and the interstate compact for life insurance product filing, regulators said.

When asked about Oxley’s support for the Market Conduct Surveillance model act just adopted by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, Albany, N.Y., those in attendance had different takes on the degree of support. Most interviewees agreed that, in general, Oxley supports the model. One interviewee suggested more ardent support and the likelihood that the model would be considered in a federal tools approach.

Those interviewed expressed some optimism following the address. The address mentioned the NAIC’s ALERT program and was supportive of a partnership that would maintain a state regulatory system and current regulatory modernization efforts, says Terri Vaughan, Iowa insurance commissioner and NAIC past president.

Larry Mirel, insurance commissioner for the District of Columbia, says he was “encouraged” by the remarks, because Oxley was “very supportive of state regulation.”

Ernst Csiszar, South Carolina insurance director and president of the NAIC, told attendees during the opening session that commissioners were offered a clearer idea of thinking in the House, although the Senate’s position was less clear. Much of the work being sought is already being done, he says. With or without the threat of federal intervention, Csiszar says, initiatives such as the interstate compact and market conduct efforts should proceed.

“The chairman is a realist,” says Jim Poolman, North Dakota commissioner and NAIC vice president. “He wholeheartedly supports state regulation but wants to prod us along in our reforms with legislation.”