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Regulator-legislator tiff will benefit no one


IT'S GENERALLY NOT GOOD for insurance regulators and legislators to be at odds.

Under the state-based system of insurance regulation in the United States, insurance commissioners propose laws and state lawmakers, if they concur, enact them. Two associations representing these groups--the National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners and the National Conference of Insurance Legislators--are having a tiff over the NAIC's use of closed-door executive sessions during its quarterly meetings.

In a volley of recent correspondence, as we report on page 4, NCOIL Vp and state Rep. Brian Kennedy, R.I., charged that some of the regulators' closed meetings are unwarranted and violate state laws that require open meetings. NAIC President Walter Bell, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Insurance, wrote back that the NAIC is a private, nonprofit organization that is not subject to open-meeting laws and "as an organization, the NAIC does not have any regulatory authority."

NCOIL was not alone in finding those assertions troubling. Last week, a group representing 13 consumer organizations wrote to Mr. Bell, urging the NAIC to cease holding inappropriate closed-door meetings.

The NAIC may well be within its rights on policymaking when it comes to public accountability, but we think it is ironic that regulators who insist on transparency from the industry they regulate then do not uphold that standard for themselves. Moreover, if the NAIC has no regulatory authority, why meet, much less hold closed-door meetings.

On a practical level, saying in effect, "We're a private club and can do as we please," sends a bad message not only to voters--who elect 12 of the nation's commissioners--but also to the state legislators on whom regulators rely to implement model laws and standards.

And a closed-door policy does more than send a bad message. It also cuts off regulators from the views and insights of outside parties, meaning that regulators may lack the information they will need to develop new rules.

Insurance industry companies and customers will gain nothing from the NAIC and NCOIL's standoff. We urge both groups to discuss their differences and resolve them, for the benefit of the constituencies they both serve.