Justice Harry Low was sworn in as the Interim Insurance Commissioner of California today, replacing Chuck Quackenbush who resigned the post in July. Advocates with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) say that Interim Commissioner Low must make the protection of insurance consumers his chief priority.
“Californians need far more protection from the insurance industry, than Mr. Quackenbush provided,” said FTCR consumer advocate Douglas Heller. “Insurers have sufficient resources to protect themselves, but consumers are counting on Commissioner Low to be their first line of defense against unfair and unscrupulous insurance companies. Justice Low must adjust from the mindset of a judge to that of a watchdog who is charged with the responsibility of fighting for California consumers.”
The advocates noted that Interim Commissioner Low’s pledge to accept no insurance industry contributions and a new law (SB 1805 — Escutia), which, if signed by the Governor, will make insurance company claims abuse public will do much to rebuild the public’s confidence in the Department of Insurance (DOI). However, according to FTCR, the public expects a re-orientation of the Department of Insurance toward the protection of consumers.
“Commissioner Low must not only distance his Department from the ethical transgressions of the former commissioner, but also from the anti-consumer policies that came to define the Quackenbush administration,” said Heller. “To steer the Department in the right direction, six years of pro-industry and anti-consumer policies must be changed.”
The new Commissioner should immediately address a series of problems that remain from the Quackenbush administration, according to FTCR. Advocates seek a re-opening of Northridge earthquake-related market conduct examinations, which were shelved by Mr. Quackenbush, and a review of the California Earthquake Authority, which has failed in its promise to provide homeowners with affordable and effective coverage. FTCR also seeks the immediate development and promulgation of “prior approval” regulations, which Quackenbush failed to issue but are needed to ensure that insurance rates are fair.
Additionally. FTCR will provide the new Commissioner with the California Insurance Policyholders Bill of Rights, which was unveiled earlier this summer by the state’s consumer groups. Advocates believe Commissioner Low should include the Policyholder Bill of Rights in his legislative agenda for 2001. The Bill of Rights includes:
- More extensive and accessible information for consumers about their policies,
- Longer time periods to file insurance claims,
- More information about insurance company conduct,
- A mechanism for consumers to advocate for greater consumer protections,
- A ban on contributions from insurance industry sources to the Insurance Commissioner, and
- Expanded legal rights for victims of unfair insurance companies.