In Chico, State Insurance Commissioner Talks About Changes He’s Making

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Voters elected him to improve things, says state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.
So, during a visit to Chico Tuesday, he talked about several changes he’s making, concerning low-cost auto insurance, report cards for health-insurance companies and insurance fraud.
A businessman who entered politics for the first time last year, Poizner is the only Republican, aside from the governor, who holds a major statewide office.
He called a news conference in front of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Chico to announce an expansion in the state’s low-cost auto insurance program. It’s designed for low-income people who are good drivers.
Poizner said in 1999, the Legislature addressed the problem of uninsured motorists by setting up the California Low-Cost Auto insurance program. The law that set up the program requires insurers to offer auto insurance (liability only) to low-income drivers who qualify. The insurance companies make little if any profit on these policies, but their costs are covered. There are no government subsidies.
The program began as a pilot operation in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Last year, it was expanded to 22 counties.
After he came into office in January, Poizner decided to pursue making the program statewide. On Tuesday, he announced that it was starting in 20 more counties, including Butte, Shasta, Yuba and Sutter. Before the end of the year, he said he wants to extend the program to the remaining 16 counties, including Glenn, Tehama and Colusa.
Poizner said in Butte County, the low-cost insurance policy would run $253 per year. To qualify, a driver must meet certain income and good-driving requirements.
Since the program started, 34,000 drivers have bought the low-cost insurance, and 80 percent of them never had auto insurance before, Poizner said.
Around the state, one in every four drivers has no insurance, he said. That’s 3 million uninsured drivers. Because of them, auto insurance premiums are about 10 to 15 percent higher than they should be, he noted.
He said he wants to make the state Department of Insurance "the premier consumer-protection agency in the country." His staff will answer questions about insurance and help resolve disputes, he said. Consumers can go to his department’s Web site and compare how much they would have to pay for car insurance from various companies. Also, he said, in 2009, he plans to produce a report card comparing the effectiveness of different health plans.
Another critical problem is insurance fraud, he said. The Legislature has passed a bill (and he’s been assured the governor will sign it) that will allow him to fill vacant positions for insurance fraud investigators in his department.
Poizner spoke to the Chico Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon, and after that, he met with the editorial board of the Enterprise-Record.
During the latter meeting, he was asked about speculation he might seek the Republican nomination for governor when Gov. Schwarzenegger completes his second term.
Poizner said he’s giving some thought to his political future although it’s a secondary matter at this point.
"This job right now is all consuming," he said.

Staff writer Larry Mitchell can be reached at 896-7759 or [email protected]

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