11 Questions for Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner Candidates

Jim Beck (R)

Jim Beck Insurance Commissoner Candidate Georgia Election 2018
Jim Beck

Photograph courtesy of Jim Beck Campaign

Republican Jim Beck is a former deputy insurance commissioner. His history in the industry includes time as a lobbyist and as leader of the Georgia Underwriting Association, an insurance marketplace for those considered “high risk,” providing basic property and liability insurance.

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?

I will double the penalties on insurance companies defrauding our seniors and veterans. I will also launch rolling regional offices. Georgia is a big state, and consumers should not have to travel to Atlanta to get the help they need. My entire campaign is centered around putting the consumer first, and regional offices would be the first step.

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?

I have worked in and around the insurance industry for over 30 years, and I think there is a misconception that someone has to be the loser. I believe in a system where consumers, insurance companies, and agents all win. Georgia families are facing huge increases in auto insurance coverage, and we simply must get these skyrocketing auto insurance rates under control and do it quickly.

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?

I believe that the federal government should get out of the way and allow Georgia to explore and find creative market-driven, state-based solutions to the issue of access to healthcare. The easiest way to empower states is through a little-known Affordable Care Act escape hatch called a 1332 State Innovation Waiver. The current administration has expressed a willingness to grant 1332 waivers. However, thus far [few] states have approved waivers to lower costs through creative risk mitigation programs. Georgia should, and can, be next. Before Obamacare, state legislatures decided what health care benefits must be included in insurance plans. State insurance commissioners oversaw the approval of the benefit packages and premium costs of each plan. This process made sense because state officials best understand the unique needs of friends and neighbors living in their communities. Under a 1332 waiver, we can design a free-market-centered healthcare system that better serves Georgia families.

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 I have alluded to in the previous questions, it is our responsibility to explore ways to lower costs and improve care for Georgians, which may mean rolling back some of the Affordable Care Act’s most burdensome regulations. The Trump administration has the constitutional authority to rewrite Obama’s heavy-handed regulations. There is legislation in Congress to give governors and insurance commissioners the authority to jointly apply for waivers. I urge you to ask your congressman to support giving governors and insurance commissioners this flexibility.

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? 

Our next insurance commissioner must commit to addressing Georgia auto insurance rates, which have been spiraling out of control for years at the expense of consumers and of market stability. There is no doubt that the Georgia General Assembly should repeal the “file and use” provisions of Georgia law. This will help lower rates across the board. There are some things the office of the insurance commissioner can do while waiting for the legislature to repeal “file and use”. Day one, I would organize and begin holding telephone town hall hearings on all proposed excessive rate increases, and if appropriate, challenge those proposals through a formal hearing in the commissioner’s office to determine whether an order stopping the increase should be issued. Our next commissioner should do what is in his or her power to look out for auto insurance consumers, as well as the market.

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?

When I was a young man, my grandmother was the victim of an insurance scammer. This thief not only robbed her of much of her life savings but also her peace of mind. I am very proud to say that in my prior service as deputy commissioner, I directed not only the Insurance Department Fraud Unit but also a team of consumer investigators that collected tens of millions of dollars rightfully owed to consumers by Georgia insurance companies.  All too often Georgia’s seniors are targeted by unscrupulous high-pressure sales tactics, and this is exactly why on day one, I will double the penalties on insurance companies guilty of victimizing a senior or an honorably discharged veteran. Working closely with local law enforcement and prosecutors, the fraud unit will very aggressively identify and prosecute fraud.

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?

I was not the insurance industry’s first choice for insurance and safety fire commissioner, as a matter of fact. My wife, Lucy, and I largely funded the primary campaign from our own resources. I have said from the time I announced my candidacy that I will not be beholden to anyone except the people of Georgia. The only people I ever want to be influenced by as insurance commissioner are the hard-working people throughout Georgia who depend on this office to be an advocate for their protection and to regulate insurance on their behalf.

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?

Government functions best when it is directly accountable to the people. Every four years, the voters of Georgia have the power to directly hire the insurance and safety fire commissioner.

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?

A properly functioning marketplace is free to evolve to meet consumer demands. The government must not hinder creative, market-driven solutions that result in greater choices for Americans faced with escalating premiums of the Affordable Care Act. My concern is that citizens who choose limited insurance plans receive accurate information from their insurance company before making this decision. Furthermore, an insurance product is at the very core a promise, and vigorous oversight is required to ensure both transparency and accountability.

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?

It is not fair that consumers find themselves in situations where they don’t know that they have seen an out-of-network provider until they receive the bill in the mail. The consumer should not be caught between insurers and providers, and I will work closely with the House and Senate insurance committees to support increased transparency and an end to the practice of “surprise” billing.

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

The Georgia Department of Insurance celebrated 106 years of service this year, and we must return to the basic mission of this office. This is only accomplished by a relentless commitment to strengthening the ability of the office to meet this true mission and complete focus on aligning the actions we take with the goal of our mission—protecting Georgia consumers.

Though not often discussed, it is imperative that the state insurance commissioner make certain that insurance companies have the financial strength to deliver on promises made to the policyholders.

We must continue to modernize insurance regulation to allow for innovation in the development of new products and service delivery. By embracing innovation, we can ensure that Georgians benefit from a truly competitive insurance marketplace.