NU Online News Service, April 9, 2004, 6:15 p.m. EDT – Insurance regulators and others are debating how much change state insurance commissioners should accept for the sake of overhauling market conduct oversight.[@@]

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo., is talking about what, if any, revisions it wants to make to the Market Conduct Surveillance Model Law, which was adopted Feb. 27 by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, Albany, N.Y.

Advocates of the NCOIL model say commissioners need to accept substantial change.

Critics say insurance commissioners should not be asked to give up the tools they now use to promote good market conduct practices.

One question that came up during a recent discussion of the model is the meaning of an NCOIL model provision that might require states to focus on examining insurers that show possible signs of having market conduct problems.

Joel Ario, NAIC secretary-treasurer and administrator of the Oregon insurance department, says he thinks a new law based on the model would supplant existing state laws that require insurers to undergo market conduct exams every 3 to 5 years.

But Joel Laucher, a California regulator, says he thinks the wording in the current draft does not preclude regulators from conducting examinations other than targeted examinations tied to market conduct analysis.

Laucher notes that California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi would not support “any law that would tie his hands and have him do less than he does now.”

Market conduct problems do not necessarily show up in consumer complaints, Laucher says.

Laucher cites the case of a fraternal insurance society that failed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in interest to beneficiaries. “There had never been a complaint filed,” Laucher says. “We do not want to be restricted by a market analysis framework.”

A consumer representative, Birny Birnbaum, executive director of the Center for Economic Justice, Austin, Texas, supports use of market analysis to identify examination targets.

A broad exam program might detect the kinds of problems that the California fraternal society experienced, but it might divert resources away from efforts to detect larger abuses, Birnbaum says.

Meanwhile, an industry representative, Linda Lanam, vice president of annuities at the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, is defending the idea of requiring regulators to use the least intrusive appropriate method for examining market conduct practices.

The requirement would simply protect insurers against excessive examinations, Lanam says. She cites a company examination that continued for so long that the company’s ongoing solvency became a concern.

Lanam also is praising the NCOIL model for creating a communications process that could help insurers avoid repeated technical violations by giving them more information about what regulators want.