On the evening of Nov. 4 as I stood in the heart of Times Square watching our new President-elect Barack Obama deliver his acceptance speech on huge monitors that competed with Broadway’s neon, I was riveted not only by the address but by the energy, excitement and sense of hope in America’s future.
Without exaggeration, it was an electrifying feeling.
Closer to the industry, but also celebrating their own hard fought victories are 5 state insurance commissioners and numerous state insurance legislators–sans neon lights and jumbo monitors, however.
But in a real way, they face the same themes that are being played out on the national political stage: change and challenge.
In just the turn of a season, this fall is being marked by unprecedented change for the insurance industry.
The industry’s image of itself is being shaken by the felling of insurance giant American International Group, New York. It should be noted that by all accounts the insurance units are in good shape for now. But even so, the challenge to sell off units and reshape the remaining company, if possible, is not going to disappear anytime soon.
Proponents of state insurance regulation know too well the challenges they face as members of Congress who blame the AIG debacle on current regulation raise the cry for federal regulation.
Those in the industry who favor a federal approach know the challenges that insurers face integrating the U.S. industry into a global market and competing with other financial services sectors.
And in another area of the business, regulating health insurance when state regulators are not preempted from doing so is a difficult task at best. Helping insurance consumers understand how their coverage works and what they are entitled to is a whole other issue. Instructing those who do not have health care about their options is yet another matter. All these nuances have been brought to light during several public hearings that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo., has convened.
And this is not to mention general industry trends such as selling insurance products that could be viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity by suddenly frugal consumers during tough times.
So why, in the face of all this, is there reason to hope?