Consumer group rings alarm as state insurance regulators weigh broker protections

The California nonprofit Consumer Watchdog on Tuesday released a new report outlining state regulators' ties to industry.

The report coincides with this weekend's spring meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, where regulators are expected to consider legislation that would shield agents and brokers from some of the effects of healthcare reform. Agents have been lobbying hard to have their fees excluded from the calculation of the medical loss ratio, which requires health plans to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on care or offer discounts.

Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.) introduced similar legislation last week. And Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a former insurance commissioner, has expressed support.

The report found that 24 commissioners worked for the insurance industry before being appointed. And two were elected with the insurance industry as their top campaign contributors: Kansas Commissioner Sandy Praeger (R), with $208,792, and Georgia Commissioner Ralph Hudgens (R), with $149,402.

"This revolving door with the industry has always been of concern to us," Washington, D.C., Director Carmen Balber told The Hill. "But this is the first time in a long time anyone's quantified it. And it's of particular concern as the commissioners take up the proposal."

The NAIC says one of its most important roles is to ensure the long-term solvency of insurance products, and industry experience can help commissioners make informed decisions.