A call to open public access to product filings that are pending approval with the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission was voted down by state insurance commissioners here.

The vote came after insurers warned that amending the current public access policy would make them less likely to use the commission, and a leading consumer advocate called the argument “a sham.” The compact commission is currently trying to increase the number of product filings so the commission will become profitable and self-sustaining.

To date, 117 product filings have been approved in an average of 25 states and an average turnaround of 31 days, according to Frances Arricale, the Commission’s executive director.

Company after company including Aegon, Genworth Financial, John Hancock, Mass Mutual, New York Life, Prudential and UNUM said they would be wary of using a system that would open up new innovative products to competitors. These companies said they have either used the commission to file products or planned to use it in the near future or when more standards are developed.

However, these companies “need to protect intellectual property,” said Michael Lovendusky, representing the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington. Lovendusky was joined by Randi Reichel, representing America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, in opposition to the amendment.

But Birny Birnbaum, a funded consumer representative with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, cited the current financial crisis with American International Group and Wall Street in general as a reason for greater transparency. “The meltdown was due in a large part to the need for greater transparency and greater accountability.” Birnbaum said he was joined by the Center for Insurance Research and the Consumer Federation of America.

He told commissioners that insurers are in effect saying that if state regulators do not do what they want, they will stay away from the commission and “state regulators will look inept to Congress.” But, he continued, “where will this stop?” Will insurers threaten to not use the commission if there is another rule that they don’t like that is put into effect?” he asked.

“Some of these people are using the AIG crisis to say that there should be federal oversight. Why would you count on the words these folks say when at the same time they are doing their best to undermine state based regulation?”

The NAIC has criticized the ACLI and the American Insurance Association, Washington, for releasing statements saying that the AIG crisis demonstrates the need for a federal regulatory presence.

Birnbaum noted that in many states, product filings become public when they are filed.

A recent IIPRC survey taken between July 16 and Sept. 2, found that 44% of respondents had access to pending, 68% of states surveyed had access to disapproved filings and 59% to withdrawn filings, which include access to accompanying correspondence and other records.

He also cited comments from North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Jim Long that the Commission affords trade secret protections to companies when needed.

And, Birnbaum said, in states that do make product filings public, companies filings are open to everyone including competitors and it has not made a major difference in the market.

Separately, it was agreed that at least for the time being, a flat fee for product filings would not be used because it was too difficult to determine components in a flat fee. The reason, according to Arricale, is because different filings had different numbers of states in which the filings were made and different states have different fees. Fees can range from $20 to $6,000, she noted.