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Insurance industry watching a few key bills

Health insurance exchange, surplus lines and the uninsured motorists instant verification bill are high on the watch list

The Legislature 2011 Session

The Legislature 2011 Session

With the Mississippi State Legislature in full swing, the insurance industry — like all others — is carefully watching procedures at the capitol. However, insurance executives say the state budget is the big factor this session and insurance-related bills are scarce.

“We’ve been watching what’s going on with the Legislature but we’re not directly involved this year,” said Arthur Russell, executive director of the Mississippi Insurance Guaranty Association which was created in 1970 by the Legislature to provide a mechanism for the payment of covered claims when a member insurer becomes insolvent and is liquidated. “We haven’t presented anything in the past three years.”

Ann Sturdivant, president of the Professional Insurance Agents Association of Mississippi, said, “All they’re talking about now is the budget. There aren’t a lot of insurance bills.”

The Independent Insurance Agents of Mississippi are monitoring bills dealing with the health insurance exchange, surplus lines of insurance and the uninsured motorists instant verification bill, according to the organization’s executive director Clinton Graham. “Those are really important bills and we’re following them,” he said.

Dudley Wooley, president and chief operating officer of the Ross & Yerger insurance firm in Jackson, says the health insurance exchange is the single biggest bill in the Legislature this year. “It has our keen interest right now,” he said. “Federal law says each state must set up a health exchange by 2014. It’s important for us to pass a state law if we want to control our own destiny instead of waiting for the federal government to set it up for us. The state bill is getting good support from both sides of the aisle at this time and we expect it to pass.”

Wooley, who serves as government affairs liaison for the Independent Agents Association, is also keeping tabs on the uninsured motorists verification bill, noting that such a process is successful in other states where the technical issues have been overcome. Public support seems to be in favor of this bill too.

Members of the Mississippi Association of Self Insurers closely watched House Bill 1078, which revises the appeal process for workers’ compensations claims. The bill, which allows claimants to bypass the circuit court when appealing a denied claim, passed the House and Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Haley Barbour. “We’ve been working to get that process changed for several years,” said MASI executive director Dan Gibson. “We’re real proud it passed.”

Liles Williams, chairman of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission, says the commission was watching several bills but all except House Bill 1078 died. With the current workers’ comp appeal process, the full commission hears the appeal first, after which it goes to Circuit Court and then to the State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can hear the case or send it to the Court of Appeals.

“This direct bill, which passed, takes the Circuit Court out of the appeals process,” he said. “We didn’t support it or work against it, but it was supported by most claimant and defense lawyers.”


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