MS Insurance Commissioner Unresponsive to Consumers, says UP

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney needs to do a better
job for consumers, two national organizations have concluded, but Chaney
said Wednesday night that he he has “a full platter.”
The Consumer Federation of America says the Insurance Department’s
Internet site does an inadequate job of giving consumers information
that would help them save money on insurance, find the best home and
auto policies and avoid companies that employ unfair claims practices.
J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s director of insurance, rated Mississippi’s
site, along with those in 17 other states, as inadequate. Only six
states have sites rated excellent, but 27 managed good or fair ratings.
Chaney, in office less than a year, said his department has
studied other Internet sites and hopes to put together rate comparisons
for consumers in Mississippi. But Chaney said his top priority right now
is to secure state funds for a program to bring down insurance rates
through construction of stronger homes.
Chaney also acknowledged that he has not responded to a Long
Beach policyholder’s repeated e-mails calling for a committee to study
improving policyholders’ rights and for numbers that would show the
average amount insurance companies paid on Katrina claims.
Chaney said his department is working to strengthen its
regulatory bill of rights and has no control over state legislation
Kevin Buckel has pushed unsuccessfully for the last two sessions. One
addition to the departments policyholder rights would be a court opinion
that says insurance companies have the burden to prove a policy
exclusion caused a loss in order to deny coverage.

Buckel and the Sun Herald have been unsuccessful in getting
updated numbers on how much insurance companies paid in Katrina claims.
Deputy Commissioner Lee Harrell said the department stopped collecting
the information a year or so ago.
In states such as California and Florida, policyholders can go to
department Web sites to find out how insurance companies performed
after earthquakes and hurricanes.
Buckel enlisted the United Policyholders of America to write
Chaney a letter one month ago, asking the commissioner to answer
Buckel’s questions. Amy Bach, executive director of the California-based
group, said Chaney has not responded. Chaney said he never saw Bach’s
Bach said residents and the business community need to push for
consumer friendly regulations and legislation.

“I think your citizens are going to have to be a lot louder,” she
said. ” You need a lot more Kevins out there making noise. And you need
influential people in the business community. They have to speak out

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Honorable Michael Chaney
Mississippi Insurance Department
1001 Woolfolk State Office Building
501 N. West St.
Jackson, MS 39201

Dear Commissioner Chaney:
I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting you at the proceedings
of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. I attend the
quarterly NAIC meetings as a consumer representative, although I will
not be at the upcoming Winter meeting in Houston. I have enjoyed
visiting with the Commissioners from your neighboring states of
Louisiana and Florida at recent meetings to discuss issues of shared
concern regarding catastrophe insurance, state run pools, price spikes
and availability shortages.
I’m writing to introduce you to United Policyholders and ask for
your assistance. UP is a national insurance consumer organization that
is dedicated to educating the public on insurance issues and
policyholders’ interests, and to helping solve marketplace and
claim-related problems. Our organization is a resource for disaster
victims and we strive to make constructive contributions to the adoption
of laws that relate to insurance matters.
United Policyholders provided support and assistance to the
citizens of Mississippi and particularly to employees of the Chevron
Corporation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Representatives of
our organization were saddened by the number of victims whose claims
were being unfairly denied but who told us they believed their elected
representatives were “in the pocket” of insurance companies and would
not help them. So many homeowners who paid good money for coverage and
claim service were forced to turn for help to lawyers instead of to
their elected representatives.
In the course of that work we connected with a gentleman by the
name of Kevin Buckel who is an outstanding example of a public-spirited
citizen volunteering his time to help future disaster victims and
strengthen the law to better protect Mississippians from unfair
treatment by insurance companies and adjusters.
As you know, Mr. Buckel has been diligently pursuing legal
reforms in the state legislature as an unpaid grass roots citizen
lobbyist. I have the utmost admiration for Mr. Buckel. I understand you
recently heard him testify at a hearing, but that you have not responded
to the following specific questions he has posed:
1. Will you form a committee to study and identify legislative
reforms that are needed to strengthen legal protections for
policyholders in your state?
2. Do you dispute or agree with the fact that according to
information published by the Sun Herald and the Insurance Information
Institute, the average amount insurers paid to homeowners on Katrina
claims was $15,428. 350,000 claims settled, $5.4 Billion Paid on 65,380
homes destroyed).
Certainly if #2 is correct, a public hearing or fact-finding
proceeding is in order and overdue. Question #1 is entirely reasonable
and seems entirely warranted.
We believe these are important and very reasonable questions that
deserve a detailed, honest response from your office. So, we are
writing to ask that you provide Mr. Buckel with the answers he has asked
Amy Bach
Executive Director