The Case Against Confirming Kitzman
By: Alex Winslow, Guest Contributor*
CORPUS CHRISTI — The Texas insurance commissioner makes decisions that affect the lives and livelihoods of every Texan. Every one of us will be a patient, own a home, drive a car, or run a small business.
And, we deserve a commissioner who serves as a neutral umpire. One who balances the needs of insurers to have the necessary resources to pay claims and turn a decent profit with policyholder protections that ensure a fair market where good coverage is available at a reasonable price and claims are paid in full and on time.
Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman is not that person.
The bill of particulars against Kitzman’s confirmation by the Texas Senate is long and troubling. But, it comes down to one basic flaw. She approaches her job not as an unbiased arbiter, but rather as someone who is of, by, and for the insurance industry.
As a result, Kitzman has sided with insurance interests over policyholders, patients, and providers time and again, alienating every one of her agency’s stakeholders, save for her apologists in the insurance lobby.
Kitzman’s tenure has been controversial from the get-go. Within months of taking the reins at TDI, she appeared at a political fundraiser at the headquarters of a Dallas-based insurance company for her friend South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Kitzman’s appearance at the event raised serious and important questions about her judgment and ability to be impartial.
Those concerns have been confirmed during her time as commissioner:
Saying there is nothing she can do to alleviate the cost of home insurance and proclaiming ignorance about the rise of junk insurance policies that don’t provide meaningful coverage, Kitzman has allowed rates to skyrocket. During Kitzman’s tenure, every major carrier has significantly increased rates, including a cumulative 31.5 percent hike from State Farm, two separate increases from Farmers Insurance that total 25 percent, and a 10 percent increase from Allstate.
On her watch, some homeowners have also seen their deductibles increase to as much as 5 percent of their home’s value. Since insurance companies won’t pay a dime until their customer pays the deductible, this dramatic increase in out-of-pocket costs makes insurance an illusion for those homeowners.
Kitzman’s agency intentionally blocked hundreds of citizen emails expressing concern over her inattention to policyholder needs. At first, the agency blamed it on a technical glitch; then said it was staff error. Turns out the emails were blocked on purpose. This reflects a larger trend toward secrecy that netted TDI an “F” on the State Integrity Investigation’s Corruption Risk Report Card.
Doctors and patients were angered when Kitzman rolled back balanced billing rules that had been in the works since at least 2010. Supported by health care professionals and patient advocates, the rules were designed to protect patients by giving them information about excessive out-of-network expenses. The Dallas Morning News editorialized that “Kitzman’s decision is outrageous.”
Patient advocates cried foul when Kitzman opted to shutter the nascent Consumer Health Assistance Program, a project to help patients navigate the complex health insurance market. CHAP was funded entirely by a federal grant for which Kitzman chose not to reapply.
Coastal residents and business owners have been angered by Kitzman’s handling of the beleaguered Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, prompting one coastal lawmaker to call Kitzman’s actions a “setup.” She has sent mixed messages about how to ensure that coastal homeowners have access to affordable insurance, and was loath to even visit with coastal leaders.
Lawmakers recently asked Kitzman to justify TDI’s practice of using highly paid out-of-state consultants. Despite having been criticized by legislators over this issue previously, Kitzman bristled, a common response that has frustrated many lawmakers.
All of this has left policyholders just plain fed up, and legislators are responding. Democratic Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Wendy Davis and Kirk Watson, as well as Republican Sens. Dan Patrick and Bob Deuell have all publicly expressed doubt about her fitness to serve. Even the governor appears to be distancing himself from his appointee by issuing a weak statement about her nomination without offering meaningful support or a defense of her record.
Texans need a commissioner with the desire to protect policyholders from abusive insurance practices and high rates. We need a commissioner committed to real oversight and a transparent process open to all stakeholders. Instead, Eleanor Kitzman acts more like the insurance executive and lobbyist she once was. Senators should reject her nomination.
*N. Alex Winslow is executive director of Texas Watch, a statewide citizen advocacy organization
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