Consumer advocates have sent the National Association of Insurance Commissioners a letter complaining about the closeness of some current and former commissioners to the insurance industry.
The NAIC, Kansas City, Mo., provides financial assistance to help the “funded consumer representatives” who wrote the letter to represent consumers in NAIC proceedings.
The 11 funded reps who signed the letter raise questions about former North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman, who helped lead the recent effort to revise the NAIC’s Viatical Settlements Model Act.
The reps, who say they sent a copy of the letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity unit, ask whether Poolman’s interest in finding a job in the insurance industry affected his work overseeing the revision while he was chair of the NAIC’s Life and Annuities Committee.
Allegations in news accounts of possible impropriety bring up “real concerns about the integrity of the process used to update the viatical model act,” the reps write.
Attachments to the letter include a Sept. 2 article from the Associated Press, a blog report from NorthDecoder.com, and, a timeline provided by NAIC-funded consumers Bill Newton and Don Morrison.
Poolman recently stepped down from the North Dakota commissioner post to start a national insurance regulatory consulting firm.
In an interview, Poolman dismissed the consumer reps’ questions and similar questions raised by critics in the life settlements industry.
Poolman says he has not accepted a job in the industry and did not have an unwritten or unspoken agreement with a company in the industry while he was insurance commissioner.
The funded consumer reps call in their letter for the NAIC to “adopt a conflict of interest policy in which the NAIC officers, chairs of standing committees and chairs of executive committee working groups agree not to accept any direct or indirect compensation to appear before any legislative or administrative body on any issue under the jurisdiction of their committee for a period of 1 or 2 years after they leave the position, with substantial penalties for violating the policy.”
“The NAIC has no response to the letter at this time,” NAIC spokesman Scott Holeman says.
The NAIC has scheduled a consumer meeting for 2 p.m. Saturday, during the NAIC fall meeting in Washington, Holeman says.
The AP story cites evidence that Poolman may have told insurance lobbyists and fellow regulators about his decision to resign before he told North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven.
The AP article includes what the reporter says is the text of an electronic mail message to Poolman from Julie McPeak, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance, who succeeded Poolman as chair of the NAIC’s Life and Annuities Committee.
“Congrats on your new gig,” McPeak writes, according to the AP article. “You deserve a sweet deal after all you have been through. And a place in N.Y.! How cool is THAT????”
The AP article also includes what the reporter says in an e-mail from Iowa Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss to Poolman.
“Promise me you’ll still remember the little …state commissioners when you hit the big time, and only shop at Barneys and Manolo’s,” Voss writes, according to the AP article.
On Wednesday, the Lexington Herald-Leader, published in Lexington, Ky., printed what it says are e-mail exchanges between McPeak and Poolman.
McPeak writes in the exchanges about Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s chances of being re-elected and her interest in obtaining a job in the industry, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Poolman, still a commissioner when the messages were exchanged, offers to call Bruce Ferguson, a lobbyist with the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Jack Dolan, a spokesman for the ACLI, told the paper that no one had contacted Ferguson about that topic.
McPeak told the Herald-Leader that she would prefer to stay in state government, but because she is an appointed official, she knows that she could be replaced at any time.
McPeak told a National Underwriter reporter that she does not have a job lined up in the insurance industry and “very much likes my job.”
The e-mail, she says, was considered a “joke” between she and Poolman. A call was never made, McPeak says.
McPeak is an appointee, Fletcher is in a “heated race” and it is “not shocking” to think that she would consider other options, McPeak says.
Poolman says accounts of a $300,000 job and an apartment in New York are “gossip.”
The gossip “is planted by the life settlement companies to discredit me and the good work at the NAIC,” Poolman says. “If they bloody me up badly, no one will want to introduce it [in legislatures].”
Poolman says the suggestion that he would talk to Bruce Ferguson on McPeak’s behalf was a joke.
THE VIATICAL MODEL REVISION
McPeak says she was “generally surprised at the tone of the [consumer] letter” because at least some of the consumer reps who signed the letter supported the model revision.
“I don’t intend to reopen the model unless there is a groundswell among commissioners,” McPeak says.
Life settlement companies have complained about lack of a provision in the revision concerning the role of trusts and life policies with trust features in the “stranger-owned life insurance market.”
Trusts and life policies with trust features will be considered in a separate model, McPeak says.
A trust provision was included in an early version of the model revision, but it was removed because of comments by banks and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, McPeak says.
THE FUNDED REPS REACT
Birny Birnbaum, an NAIC-funded consumer rep and executive director of the Center for Economic Justice, Austin, Texas, says, “Jim Poolman has done more to help insurance consumers in North Dakota and the NAIC than any other insurance commissioner.”
Birnbaum disagrees with Poolman about his approach to developing the viatical model revision, but not necessarily with the the content of the model, Birnbaum says.
“I think that he paid a price,” Birnbaum says. “Any commissioner that really sticks his neck out” is subject to negative treatment.
But the long list of past NAIC presidents who have gone to work in the insurance industry suggests that a stronger NAIC policy on jumping to the industry is needed, Birnbaum says.
William Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, Tampa, Fla., says a few states already impose restrictions on moves to private industry.
A 2-year requirement for all states would not be unreasonable, Newton says.
“It gives us comfort that a commissioner is not looking for a job,” Newton says.