Georgia Insurance Advocate Office May Be Axed

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By Daniel Hays

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NU Online News Service, March 17, 12:04 p.m.EST?Georgia's Republican Gov., Sonny Perdue, has fired theDemocrat serving as consumers' insurance advocate, but no decisionhas been made on whether to eliminate the position, the governor'sstaff said.

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An insurance trade group, the National Association ofIndependent Insurers, has urged the governor to eliminate theOffice of Consumers' Insurance Advocate, headed by Cathey W.Steinberg.

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Jon Bonus, a spokesman for Gov. Perdue, said Friday the decisionon whether to keep the position "is still under review."

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The governor's action concerning the advocate was done withoutfanfare at the end of an announcement concerning a list ofappointments. The press release stated: "In addition the governoraccepted the resignation of Helen Scholes, executive director ofthe Georgia Building Authority, and Cathey W. Steinberg, consumers'insurance advocate."

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Ms. Steinberg, who indicated that she will remain at her postuntil the end of the month, said she could not predict the fate ofher agency, because Georgia, like other states, is having seriousfinancial problems, "I don't think anyone knows," shecommented.

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Her removal, she said, came about because "I'm perceived as apolitical appointment."

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She noted that her office had been created in 1999 by Mr.Perdue's predecessor, Democrat Roy Barnes, and that RepublicanInsurance Commissioner John W. Oxendine opposed creation of anadvocate, "as did every Republican? Their feeling was it wasduplicative."

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She said the office has a staff of 12 persons and has a budgetof about $800,000.

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James S. Taylor, southeastern regional manager for the DesPlaines, Ill.-based NAII said "Eliminating this extraneous,non-elected position will clarify the fact that Georgia's insurancecommissioner is the state's real consumer advocate."

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He called Mr. Perdue's action a step in the right directiontoward streamlining the insurance process.

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Although the advocate has no power over insurance rate setting,it has the authority to intervene, request records, testify andcomment on insurance-related legislation, and act as an interestedthird party in insurance-related litigation?a form of "de factoregulation," Mr. Taylor noted.

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He suggested that, "Perhaps the money saved from the consumeradvocate position should be channeled into the insurancedepartment, where it could do the most good."

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Ms. Steinberg had served in the general the General Assemblywith Mr. Barnes, and some saw creation of her office as a moveagainst Mr. Oxendine.

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Ms. Scholes, the other Democrat who lost a job, was a longtimefriend of former first lady Marie Barnes.

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