TN insurance commissioner’s travel, work with industry association, questioned

Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak, who is president-elect of of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has made more than 120 trips for conferences and meetings around the nation and world since taking office in 2011, reports WTVF-TV — and some say she’s spending “way too much time away from her office.”

McPeak told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, “That (travel) absolutely is serving the taxpayers of Tennessee and our Tennessee consumers.” But, Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America wasn’t so sure.

“I think what happens as a result of these trips is less consumer protection, not more,” he said.

Hunter is a former state insurance commissioner himself from Texas. He’s now a consumer advocate with the national organization based in Washington.

…”I am a member of the NAIC as is every chief insurance regulator in the United States,” McPeak explained. Yet, McPeak is not just a member of the group, she’s now their president-elect.

And when she travels, the NAIC pays for her airfare, hotel and meals….The association gets most of its $99 million a year in revenue from the insurance industry through licensing and other fees.

“At least on one or two occasions, the industry has balked at paying those fees, when the NAIC was doing things they didn’t like,” Hunter recalled.

The NAIC frequently sends McPeak and other commissioners to Washington to meet with members of Congress and even appear before Congressional committees… Hunter maintains the NAIC and its members do not push anything the insurance companies don’t agree with.

…Hunter said what you see going on in Washington, in effect, is essentially state regulators lobbying for the insurance industry.

But McPeak insisted, “No, I don’t lobby at all. I am really the factual resource for anyone interested in legislation.”

…”My involvement in the NAIC and participation in these trips and congressional testimony really put me on the forefront of knowing the issues that are going to be discussed and ideas that are being put forward to solve some of these issues with Obamacare,” she responded.

…Leslie Newman was the previous insurance commissioner serving under Governor Bredesen. And in comparison, Newman said she only took a handful of out of state trips to NAIC meetings. She told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Governor Bredesen made it clear he wanted his commissioners to stay in Tennessee.

In a separate, related report, the Nashville TV station focuses more on the trips — 30 last year including one in December when 10 staffers accompanied her for a trip to Miami – and the  amount of time spend outside her Nashville office.

Two years ago, she was on the road 117 days. Last year, 120 days, or in other words, four whole months.

… The organization wouldn’t tell us how much they’ve spent, but as Tennessee’s Insurance Commissioner, McPeak has taken more than 120 of these trips so the NAIC has likely spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It seems to be a clear conflict of interest,” Andy Spears, Executive Director of the consumer advocacy group, Tennessee Citizen Action, stated.

One Response to TN insurance commissioner’s travel, work with industry association, questioned

  • Greg Mitchell says:

    The Consumer Federation of America and the TV station is totally misstating the structure and workings of the NAIC and relationship to/with the industry. Not to say there are not issues/improvements that can be made in how the NAIC works in support of state based insurance regulation but a more thorough understanding and appreciation of the structure would provide a more thoughtful discussion.

    In fact, consumer groups/consumer advocates are funded by the NAIC to attend meetings. Such information would add to a balanced perspective of issues, including a review of testimony and presentations made by Commissioner McPeak.

    The Commissioner has spent years in the industry and from an outsider advocated for the citizens of Tennessee.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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