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Optional federal charter has 'merit': Paulson


WASHINGTON--The Bush administration is willing to consider whether insurers should be allowed to choose federal rather than state regulation, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said.

During a question-and-answer session before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee earlier this week, however, Mr. Paulson declined to endorse the idea. He did say he believed it had "merit."

Bills that would have created optional federal charters for insurers that preferred it to state regulation were introduced last year in both houses of Congress. None ever made it to the floor of either chamber.

"We're encouraged by the comments of Secretary Paulson regarding optional federal charter," said a spokesman for the Washington-based American Insurance Assn., which supports the optional federal charter approach. "We anticipate the reintroduction of OFC legislation and we look forward to a healthy debate on the issue."

The National Assn. of Mutual Insurance Cos. took a different view.

"We are troubled by Secretary Paulson's comments indicating that he is considering supporting a new federal layer of bureaucracy for insurance carriers and producers," said Justin Roth, senior director-federal affairs in NAMIC's Washington office. "We look forward to the opportunity to express our concerns before Treasury, and then NAMIC will be able to offer a view from the perspective of both the large and small carriers who are the backbone of the insurance industry."