STATES REWARDED FOR MOVE TOWARD NATIONAL STANDARDS

STATES REWARDED FOR MOVE TOWARD NATIONAL STANDARDS

Several state insurance departments are expected to receive the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' seal of approval next month during the commissioners' winter meeting in Honolulu.

Since 1990, 22 states have enacted the minimum number of financial regulatory model laws, including financial solvency standards, called for under the association's accreditation program.The program has been touted as a way to eliminate uneven state-to-state requirements, promote better insurance department management practices and - perhaps most important of all - foster better solvency policing by the various state insurance departments.

The association of insurance commissioners has pledged that by Jan. 1, a ''substantial majority" of states will have met the obligatory regulatory

financial standards needed for accreditation status.

The insurance commissioners "are hoping for another four to six states by

December," said Patrick McNally, senior vice president and general counsel at the National Association of Independent Insurers, Des Plaines, Ill.

That will definitely occur, an NAIC official said, because of an important Jan. 1 deadline.

''After that date accredited states will not automatically accept reports of examination from non-accredited states," he said.

For instance, if an insurance company domiciled in a non-accredited state like Louisiana wished to do business in an accredited state like Illinois, the Illinois regulator wouldn't be able to accept the findings of the Louisiana company's latest on-site exam unless an examiner from an accredited state had participated.

The exams are called for under an NAIC model law required under the accreditation program. Frequency depends on the insurer's relative risk status.

The nation's biggest insurance market was among the first 20 insurers to gain the distinction when California was accredited in June, and most recently Arizona and Maine also joined the group of NAIC-approved states.

And as December draws near, "Other states are being visited by NAIC accreditation teams," Mr. McNally said.

While some large insurance industry interests believe a federal regime could better regulate insurance company solvency, others, including the National Association of Independent Insurers, remain committed to the state system for regulating insurance companies.

Many of them see the accreditation system as a partial solution to the insurance industry's solvency woes.

An NAII solvency committee released a report in 1991 that questioned whether structural changes are needed in the state system of solvency regulation. The conclusion was that while state regulation of the insurance industry isn't perfect, the state system is more geared "to balance the goals of security and free enterprise" than any form of federal regulation or combination of state and federal regulation.

Mr. McNally's association has a vested interest in seeing the commissioners' group reach their goal this year.

Back in 1989, "Our board recommended many of the standards the NAIC adopted" as their own, Mr. McNally said. That year an NAII solvency task force published a report that made several recommendations with regard to improving insurance company solvency.

Among the NAII's recommendations were:

* Mandating CPA audits of insurance companies' financial statements.

* Requiring actuarial certification of insurance companies' loss reserves.

* Calling for uniform enforcement of the NAIC's Insurance Holding Company System model act.

The recommendations are geared toward improving the state system of solvency regulation and promoting uniformity between states.

"It makes it simpler if every state has the same requirements for holding companies," Mr. McNally said.

These were just some recommendations that found their way into the commissioners' accreditation program. The 1989 report underlined the significance of commissioners' guidelines on the use of managing general agents, and incorporated many other NAIC models.

"NAII strongly supports the NAIC program, and we've actively lobbied on behalf of the solvency package introduced by the insurance regulators in the various states," Mr. McNally said.

But a congressional investigating agency believes there are some fundamental problems with the accreditation plan.

Richard L. Fogel, the General Accounting Office's assistant comptroller general, told a House panel several months ago that the plan "still does not convincingly demonstrate that accredited states can effectively regulate insurer insolvency."

He told the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee that the NAIC made some improvements in 1993 in terms of explaining its decision-making process in writing. But "the documentation is still inadequate to fully explain the basis for accreditation decisions," Mr. Fogel said.

He also suggested that the NAIC's accreditation standards are too broadly defined, questioned if the program could be sustained over the long term, and said there is evidence that states with weak financial examination processes for assessing solvency are being accredited nonetheless.

The NAII's Mr. NcNally said the findings are hardly surprising given their source.

"GAO is hardly a non-biased organization," he said.

"A congressman asks them to do a study. Normally our experience has been the study is somewhat biased. In this case congressman John Dingell asked for the study," he said.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairs the Oversight subcommittee, which has been investigating the adequacy of state insurance regulation for the past five years. He is pushing for a national solvency program that focuses on a two-tiered state and federal regulatory regime.

His 250-page bill would create a new federal agency to set insurance solvency standards and set uniform licensing criteria for domestic and foreign insurers.

Steven T. Foster, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, criticized the bill earlier this year at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Commerce, Consumer Protection and Competitiveness Subcommittee.

The Dingell bill "proposes to replace state oversight in some areas, establish joint regulation in others and leave existing state responsibilities completely intact in still others," he said.