The state Senate confirmation process is often perfunctory, but on the nomination for insurance commissioner, senators are doing their due diligence. They recognize the high stakes for South Carolina, particularly in the coastal region. Putting tough questions to nominee Ray Farmer is a good place to begin.
So far, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, has taken the lead, raising questions about the profits enjoyed by insurers doing business in South Carolina. He pegged that return at 20 percent, fairly contending that figure alone demonstrates a market disconnect.
It’s a problem that the state’s rate-payers should expect the next insurance commissioner to address.
“I’ve got some serious questions whether the rates that consumers are paying are commensurate with the risks that insurers are assuming,” Sen. Davis says.
He says that a 2007 legislative initiative to encourage market reform of the insurance market for coastal wind risks clearly failed to achieve its goal.
The next insurance commissioner can play a reform role by encouraging more consumer involvement in the decision-making process.
Sen. Davis cited initiatives in Alabama and Texas that provide Web-based information toward that end. “I’d like to see the consumer become more informed, more aggressive,” he says.
The highly competitive auto-insurance market should serve as an example for the larger industry, the senator adds.
The shortcomings of the homeowner insurance market were explored last year in a Post and Courier investigatory series by reporter Tony Bartelme. His findings cited the industry’s use of privileged information to raise rates without adequate state oversight or challenge. Mr. Bartelme’s series should be required reading for state lawmakers.
Another resource for the Legislature is retired telecommunications executive Daryl Ferguson of Beaufort, who has spent thousands of hours scrutinizing the state’s insurance system, with an eye to cutting the high cost to homeowners.
What Mr. Ferguson told legislators last week should have gotten their attention: “This is a catastrophe for the state. We’re paying some of the highest rates and the insurance industry is making exorbitant profits.”
The confirmation process is expected to continue this week, with senators lining up to question Mr. Farmer on other aspects of the system, including health insurance and the potential effects of Obamacare.
The senators are right to get an idea of Mr. Farmer’s views of the industry and particularly his recommendations for improvements designed to benefit hard-pressed consumers.
It will inform their confirmation vote, and provide direction on pending legislative efforts to improve regulation and oversight of an industry that affects nearly every citizen in South Carolina.