Insurance is regulated by states, and the states’ laws are implemented and administered by state insurance commissioners. This was affirmed in 1945 by the McCarran-Ferguson Act. Under that act, states regulate the business of insurance unless the U.S. Congress decides otherwise. In the past six years, the federal government has with regularity encroached on areas previously controlled solely by state insurance commissioners, such as through the following federal actions:
- The creation by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) of the Federal Insurance Office (FIO)
- Dodd-Frank’s creation of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC)
- The Affordable Care Act (ACA)
- The Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary rule issued April 8, 2016
These federal encroachments have led to regulatory confusion. Although state insurance commissioners are the predominant regulator of licensed insurance carriers and producers, insurance companies that are deemed systemically important non-bank financial institutions are supervised both by the Federal Reserve and by their domestic state insurance regulators. This creates significant duplication and regulatory burden; the cost of that burden – as well as some of the confusion -- is ultimately passed on to consumers. Under the ACA, for instance, state insurance regulators routinely must react to hundreds of pages of regulations that are published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Licensed insurance producers and carriers must overhaul their operations and distribution to comply with the 1,023-page DOL fiduciary rule.
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As I see it, state legislatures have given state insurance regulators dual mandates: (1) to protect consumers from the moment of purchase through filing a claim and ultimately the payment or denial of that claim; and (2) to ensure companies are solvent and can meet their financial obligations to consumers. While insurance regulators at the state level can always improve, I do believe that collectively we do a commendable job. Insurance company failures are rare, and most states respond to consumer complaints in a very timely fashion.
Under a President Trump, I believe the role of state insurance regulators will grow as some federal regulations are eliminated. If Dodd-Frank is reviewed, the role of the FIO and even the FSOC could change. State regulators have argued tirelessly that the FIO is not a regulator and needs to stay in its lane as authorized under Dodd-Frank. State regulators are debating with the FIO the need for a covered agreement on reinsurance collateral and are worried about state law being preempted. I think that, under a Trump administration, state regulators may be listened to much more in this debate. State commissioners and the FSOC representatives with insurance experience have also worked to ensure that the FSOC recognize that insurance is not banking and that traditional insurance is not systemic to the global financial system. A Trump administration may agree with state insurance regulators on these issues and many more. Only time will tell, of course.
State insurance commissioners need to demonstrate through the execution of states’ dual mandates that we deserve the responsibility of supervising the insurance markets in our respective states and that we do it better than it could be done from the federal level. I believe the time for state insurance commissioners to shine is now, and I hope we all continue to deliver results as our roles as the regulators of insurance carriers and producers and as the protectors of consumers become increasingly important.
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