In San Francisco earlier this month, the tiff over entry into regulator-only meetings at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners heated up.

A state legislator, Rep. Robert Damron, D-Jessamine-Kentucky, was denied access to the Commissioners Roundtable by a guard at the entrance to the meeting room. Damron expressed outrage over the exclusion, although he noted that NAIC executives had approached him after the meeting saying it was all a mistake. Damron was particularly angered because he said his name was on a “Do Not Admit” e-mail. Meetings, he feels, should be open to everyone, including consumer reps and journalists (you rock!)

Another legislator, Rhode Island State Rep. Brian Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, walked in with a commissioner and was permitted to stay through most of the meeting, with the exception of several legal matters at the end.

Kennedy is the firebrand who raised the issue in the first place after being denied access to the Roundtable meetings during the last 2 NAIC quarterly meetings. He is doing more than rail. He is denouncing the policy as a violation of state open meeting rules, reminding regulators that they need to be mindful of their states’ laws. On June 1, he sent a letter to all 50 state insurance legislative committees informing them that “your insurance commissioner or insurance supervisor is violating your state open meetings policies…”

Catherine Weatherford, NAIC executive vice president and CEO, issued a statement on the policy. She says the NAIC conducts its meetings in open session and invites “all interested parties to attend and participate.” She notes that “a few regulator-to-regulator meetings are held, including those which involve discussions on ongoing investigations, litigation, or financial solvency concerns related to specific companies. We welcome state legislator and other appropriate government representative participation in many of these regulator-to-regulator sessions.”

On Damron’s exclusion, Weatherford says access is governed by badge color and monitored by temporary staff, and sometimes badge color alone is not enough to identify staff. Consequently, a document, not an e-mail, was prepared, identifying registered legislators by name and specifying what meetings they could attend. “Regrettably, this document intended to allow greater legislator access to meetings was misinterpreted by a temporary door monitor.”

Amid this forest of limited access and miscues, there are a couple of trees. Redwoods, in fact.

One raised its head when representatives of all the major insurance trade groups delivered an S.O.S. over a bill, the Insurance Industry Competition Act, S. 618/H.R. 1081, which would dismantle antitrust exemptions in the McCarran-Ferguson Act. They bluntly warned commissioners of the damage that would be done to the insurance market if the legislation proceeds and asked the NAIC to strongly oppose it.

Another redwood for state regulators is the possibility of an optional federal charter.

Given these very major issues for state insurance regulation, it would seem that state insurance commissioners would want to usher as many state legislators and other state stakeholders into their meetings as possible to discuss legislative strategy.

Bleeding energy and focus over the openness of meetings diminishes the strength and resources that could be used to unite and create effective strategy to ensure the continued role of states in the insurance market. Without more cooperation, supporters of state regulation may be left wandering in the forest.

Jim Connolly

Senior Editor