Has our political system come down totally to a matter of who can pay the most money to get favorable laws passed? It often seems that way. We have fallen so far from men such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams — a few of the signers of the Declaration of Independence — to the people who now hold federal and state offices.
In Texas, the government very, very rarely questions insurance companies any time they raise rates. No prior approval is required for rate increases. But recently, one state agency did question a rate increase by State Farm. The Legislative response? What else — a bill to abolish that state agency!
Here are the headlines and opening paragraphs of two stories that ran on consecutive days in the Dallas Morning News:
Dallas-area senator files bill to abolish state consumer advocate for insurance
Just days after the Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel moved to block State Farm’s 20 percent increase in homeowners insurance rates, a Dallas-area senator introduced a bill Thursday that would abolish the agency.
The measure by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, would eliminate one persistent critic of State Farm and leave residential and small business consumers without a voice on rate matters before the Texas Department of Insurance. Hancock, who represents parts of Dallas and Tarrant counties, said he was aiming to save taxpayer money.
Public Insurance Counsel Deeia Beck called on the state insurance commissioner to stop State Farm Lloyds — the company’s homeowners subsidiary — from charging the higher rates and to order refunds if the insurer refuses to cancel the premium hike.
Beck, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, called the rate increase “excessive, unreasonable and unfairly discriminatory” in her statement last week. On Thursday, her office was granted a March 4 hearing before a state administrative law judge on the issue.
State Farm has been locked in a nearly decadelong battle with the insurance department over its rates. The department says State Farm owes its policyholders at least $310 million plus interest for overcharges dating back to 2003. The Office of Public Insurance Council has maintained that the actual figure is closer to $1 billion.
“Why would lawmakers even consider eliminating the one thing that gives Texas policyholders a fighting chance against Big Insurance?” said Alex Winslow of Texas Watch, a consumer group that follows insurance issues. “Texans already pay the highest home insurance rates in the nation. Checks on insurance industry abuses are already few and far between.”
Sen. Kelly Hancock, who filed measure to eliminate consumer advocate, got big contributions from insurance industry
A Dallas-area senator carrying a bill that would abolish the state’s consumer advocate for insurance received nearly $112,000 from insurance political action committees in his 2012 campaign, a political watchdog group reported.
Texans for Public Justice, which monitors spending by political candidates in Texas, said Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, received 8 percent of his campaign donations from insurance interests last year. Hancock, who represents parts of Dallas and Tarrant counties, received a total of $1.3 million in contributions for his Senate race.
Texans for Public Justice reported on the campaign donations a day after Hancock introduced a bill that would eliminate the Office of Public Insurance Council. His measure was filed just days after the office moved to block a 20 percent increase in home insurance rates by State Farm.