Filed Under:Health Insurance, Individual Health

SABIR-rattling at the NAIC and beyond

CEO Nelson and members, group ready to 'fight' for state regulation

A new battle for (regulatory) independence is brewing. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
A new battle for (regulatory) independence is brewing. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

NAIC CEO Ben Nelson and a group that says it is poised to defend state regulation spoke in robust battle rhetoric Monday at a reception, upping the rhetoric against federal insurance supervision while at an event where participants made a call to arms, of sorts, against federal encroachment.

The target – “excessive federal regulation” – is in the form of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Federal Insurance Office (FIO), according to the group’s literature and dialogue with reporters, which Nelson echoed in his statements. Left unmentioned is the Federal Reserve Board, which is already regulating some insurers of all sizes because they have thrifts, and may regulate more under Dodd-Frank parameters.

“Folks may look at us as if we are protecting our turf. With any assault on state regulation, I am out of my chair, ready to fight immediately,” said the former U.S. Senator from Nebraska, NAIC official, state regulator and governor. “State regulation is worth protecting.”

Nelson was speaking at a gathering sponsored by the States Alliance for Balanced Insurance Regulation (SABIR), which states that “every day the specter of federal regulation grows and the onslaught against states’ rights continues,” and  makes statements defending an “increasingly threatened way of life. We fight for you!” 

This is Nelson's first NAIC national meeting as its Washington-based CEO.

SABIR, which sponsored a private gathering at the NAIC conference’s hotel, is headed by Calif. Rep. Barry M. Goldwater, Jr., R-Calif., son of the late Arizona senator and Republican presidential nominee in 1964. It has been in existence since about mid-2010. The group is a nonprofit 501(c)3 that appears to represent these small and medium-sized insurers.

Goldwater said he would encourage all insurance commissioners to take a stand against any encroachment from FIO.

“I think we have a potential army not only in the commissioners but in the industry,” Goldwater said at the event. 

Goldwater invoked as examples of federal failures Amtrak, Fannie Mae, the War on Drugs and the War on Poverty to try and demonstrate how PPACA does not hold much promise for fixing health care coverage.

He advised states to step back and take a "wait-and-see attitude" toward any implementation of the ACA and exchanges, adding that state-based exchanges are a misnomer because even they have to get stamps of approval from the federal government. 

The "big guys" might like federal regulation but middle-sized and smaller companies like state-based regulation, Goldwater said.

It does not list its members, but SABIR notes on its website that small and mid-size insurers have found it increasingly difficult to get their particular point of view known to, and advocated within, Congress.

Why fight now, SABIR asks?

“Because it will be too late to fight the battle when the enemy is fully engaged (they are already laying the groundwork) and the ‘good guys’ have not yet assembled their army. The other side has already done the background work, they are fully prepared, and are just waiting for the right time to strike. It could be next month; it could be six months from now,” SABIR says.

“The threat of federal regulation usurping state regulation and states' rights has never been stronger. The time for action is now," states SABIR, calling interests to join up against this "imminent threat."

"Opposition armies are assembled, well provisioned, and marching in formation towards the skirmish line. But we are not even on the battlefield. Yet."

The group is headquartered in Washington, D.C., although Goldwater runs a Phoenix-based consulting business, which includes all insurance segments including reinsurance and team composed of former insurance commissioners and regulators, “that assists clients in achieving common sense solutions to their federal and regulatory issues.”

SABIR also finds fault with two large trades, the American Insurance Association (AIA) and the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) is not mentioned, but SABIR’s chairman of the board is Ernie Csiszar, who previously held appointments as NAIC president (2004), South Carolina insurance director, and president and CEO of PCI.

The ACLI and AIA "are inclined to support federal regulation. Some larger national insurers have even taken out prominent ads in influential Washington publications pushing federal regulation. What further evidence do we need to demonstrate that the current threat is real and formidable?” SABIR says in its promotional material.

Csiszar is now in business as an advisor to Bridge Strategy Group's health and insurance practices and teaches finance at the University of South Carolina.

SABIR’s Executive Director is David H. Bass, president and CEO of Washington-based Raptor Strategies LLC, a public relations and public affairs firm, and has done extensive work with the NAIC and states' insurance departments, according to his resume. He appears regularly on Fox News as a commentator, it said. 

One member firm present at the event, Southport, a private equity firm with insurance and reinsurance holdings in the U.S. and the Cayman Islands. Glenn Weber, the firm’s CEO, said he liked dealing with individual states for rates and filings. Southport makes principal investments such as asset-based financings, structured recapitalizations, buyouts of small-to-medium size companies, public-to-private transactions, and distressed opportunities, according to the Southport Lane website.

“Our voices would be lost among federal regulators and legislators, and our interests would be trampled underfoot. Insurers would have far fewer options under ‘one-stop’ federal regulation to avoid excessive, ill-advised over-regulation and politically inspired rate suppression, all at a one-stop national level,” SABIR warns.

Also at the reception, Nelson reiterated his request that FIO stay "in its own lane." Nelson noted that the requests for information which FIO is sending out, like the recent request for information from states via the NAIC's Reinsurance Task Force, are well within FIO’s realm, and acknowledged that it hasn’t overstepped its bounds, at least not yet, but added that there is a lot of “uncertainty” out there about its role, and that “clarity is our ally.”

The theme of taking a stand against outside threats was very clear at the NAIC Spring National Meeting here in Houston. Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman told the opening session “Don’t mess with the NAIC,” as a riff on the slogan “Don’t mess with Texas.”

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