11 Questions for Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner Candidates

Janice Laws (D)

Janice Laws Insurance Commissoner Candidate Georgia Election 2018
Janice Laws

Photograph courtesy of Janice Laws Campaign

Democrat Janice Laws has been a Georgia insurance agent for about 16 years and is owner of J. Laws & Associates. She emigrated from Jamaica to the United States as a teenager. This would be her first elected office.

1. Like most elected officials, insurance commissioners can bring their own projects or initiatives to the job. What would you do that’s outside the formal job description?

As Insurance Commissioner, I will initiate regional offices statewide to create dialogue
between my office, the legislature, local elected officials, stakeholders, and the Georgia
families that we serve. Additionally, I will initiate a consumer website where Georgians
can locate agents, brokers, and insurance carriers, as well as resources and office locations
for face-to-face support. I am committed to establishing a communications framework,
which will include but will not be limited to: holding in-person and digital town hall meetings to address the insurance and fire safety concerns of Georgians, and annual awareness events to keep Georgia’s communities informed of changes and updates that impact their insurance and fire safety. I believe it is time, also, that we create an assessment tool to monitor the practices of insurance companies and their rates.

2. Both auto and life insurance companies tell regulators that they will leave
states where the profits are no good. But people have to buy those types of
insurance, making them a captive market. What’s your plan to prevent insurance
companies from leaving Georgia while also controlling rate increases?

With the passing of Senate Bill 276 in 2008, proposed insurance rate increases go
unchallenged. I believe that proposed rate increases should be required to undergo an
intense evaluation process to determine if a rate increase is justifiable. I will use my
office to challenge insurance providers and press lawmakers for changes. While I
support insurers and the business community, I do not support them at the expense of
Georgia’s consumers. I will seek out and invite insurance companies to Georgia who
are willing to offer affordable insurance rates to Georgians.

3. Some Georgia counties have only one provider selling health insurance on the
federal marketplace. With the Affordable Care Act still in effect, and if Georgia
isn’t going to expand Medicare, how is it possible to make sure companies will
serve those areas and how to get more choices for customers?

As insurance commissioner, I will be researching and inviting best in class insurance
providers to do business in Georgia for the future health of all Georgians, particularly
for our vulnerable working families, small businesses, and seniors.

4. Georgia has one of the highest rates in the country of working-age people who
don’t have any health insurance. As of March, about 15.5 percent of people in
that group had no health insurance coverage, by one estimate. Going without
insurance is dangerous for people, and costs the hospitals that serve them.
What role can the insurance commissioner play here?

As insurance commissioner, I will advocate for caps on health insurance premium
rates to bring down the cost of health insurance, and I will seek avenues to ensure
every Georgian has access to high-quality affordable healthcare.

5. In 2008, the state Legislature trimmed insurance commissioners’ power to
keep a lid on car insurance rate hikes. The idea was to let market competition set
prices. But car insurance prices have gone up and up since then, and at one
point the percentage increases were the highest in the country. How should the
next insurance commissioner approach car insurance prices—and how exactly
do you do that?

With the passing of Senate Bill 276 in 2008, proposed insurance rate increases go
unchallenged. I believe that proposed rate increases should be required to undergo an
intense evaluation process to determine if a rate increase is justifiable. I will use my
office to challenge insurance providers and press lawmakers for changes.

6. One of the jobs of an insurance commissioner is to fight fraud and warn
Georgians about scams. What’s a scam or fraud out there that needs attacking
but has been neglected or is new?

There are many types of fraudulent practices in Georgia when it comes to various
types of insurance. One area that is extremely damaging is in the area of underwriting practices for home and industrial loans. As insurance commissioner, I will initiate policies to ensure fair underwriting practices are implemented and enforced, especially in the area of home and industrial loans.

7. Insurance commissioner candidates can accept campaign donations from
people who work in the industry they regulate. And it’s common for candidates
to come from various parts of what’s a complex industry seeking this obscure
elected post. All that has the effect of making the post seem open to industry
influence. How can voters be sure that you’d be independent from the industry
you regulate?

The voters can be sure that I am independent from the insurance industry that I
regulate by the fact my clients have not been large insurance corporations. As an
insurance broker, my clients have been individuals and small business owners. As
insurance commissioner, I will be accountable for regulating the multibillion dollar
insurance industry in Georgia. These are large corporations who are profiting from the
rapidly rising insurance prices that my clients have found financially crippling.

8. Most state insurance regulators are not elected. They’re appointed—by, say, a
governor with state Senate approval. Should Georgia think about making this an
appointed job? What are your thoughts on election versus appointment of an
insurance commissioner?

Electing Georgia’s insurance commissioner is a more democratic process than appointing our insurance commissioner because the accountability of Georgia’s insurance commissioner lies in protecting Georgia’s consumers. Those same consumers are the ones who have a constitutional right to say—through their vote—what candidate they say is best suited to protect them and their interests.

9. Some states have banned a product that the Trump administration has just
allowed companies to offer for up to three years: very inexpensive health
insurance that offers very few services and which was originally intended for
short-term use—three months or so. What are your thoughts on “short-term”
health insurance plans?

The data shows that short-term health insurance plans are not quality healthcare insurance for the majority of Georgians and their health and wellness needs.

10. Georgia lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have tried with limited success
to address what’s called “surprise” medical billing—when you are sent to a
specialist who’s not in your insurance network, even if the hospital where they
practice is. The “surprise” is a hefty bill for services you get later. As insurance
commissioner, what would be your approach to surprise billing?

As insurance commissioner, my approach to “surprise” billing is to advocate for public policy that would identify and distinguish such “surprise” billing as a predatory practice and to explore avenues for exonerating impacted patients or consumers and hold insurance companies accountable.

11. What are the biggest issues that the insurance commissioner will need to
face in the next four years?

The biggest issue I face as Georgia’s next insurance commissioner is holding the multibillion dollar insurance industry in Georgia accountable for all of the practices they currently have that the data shows are detrimental and devastating to Georgia’s consumers.