Lawmakers spice up insurance hearing--with a little help from television


ANNAPOLIS -- It wasn't "sex lies and videotape," but the House Economic Matters Committee managed yesterday to spice up a less-than-riveting hearing on insurance bills by turning on the boob tube.

The lawmakers screened a segment from the television show "20/20," played host to the speaker of the House and hosted a rare personal appearance by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"I'm going to be appearing on things I'm very, very interested in," Mr. Schaefer told the committee, without making any reference to the package of eight administration-sponsored insurance bills the committee was hearing.

The bills fall into three broad categories: attacking fraud committed by policyholders and employees of insurers; beefing up anti-solvency regulations; and authorizing the insurance commissioner to regulate some insurance brokers and agents who effectively control insurers.

Chairman Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, perhaps anticipating the demands on lawmakers' patience the nearly five-hour hearing would require, started the afternoon with a videotaped segment on insurance fraud aired on the ABC-TV news show "20/20."

The highlight of the segment was a reference to the 11 lawsuits filed against the city of Philadelphia by passengers on a bus involved in an accident. It turned out the bus was empty at the time.

"There's a tremendous amount of money in this country being pushed down the tubes due to fraud," Mr. Taylor said.

But he expressed frustration at the failure of the governor's bills to police fraud in Maryland. House Bill 208 would allow the Insurance Division to investigate suspected insurance fraud, require insurance company employees to report alleged fraud incidents and require companies to develop and submit anti-fraud plans to the state.

"I frankly am disappointed in the commission's recommendations on fraud," Mr. Taylor said.

"I don't understand why you hesitate or are afraid to get serious about it."

Insurance Commissioner John A. Donaho said after the hearing that the governor's commission felt that Mr. Taylor's idea of a state-operated fraud bureau would not be effective until other "tools" were in place, such as a fraud data base and more effective law enforcement.

Insurance industry lobbyists came out in force for the hearing, ostensibly supporting most of the bills in the package.

To the frustration of some committee members, the witnesses' firm support often segued into qualified opposition.

The committee heard from a half-dozen or so lobbyists who said they wholeheartedly supported the goal to cut down on fraud, but had only "minor amendments" to add to Mr. Taylor's bill requiring insurers to inspect a car before insuring it.

At one point the chairman asked Nationwide Insurance Co. lobbyist Jeffrey D. Rouch, "You like the bill, too?"

"Our position is in support, with amendments, yes," was the reply.

"Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die," an exasperated Mr. Taylor responded.

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