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Best’s News & Research Service - October 21, 2020 03:23 PM (EDT)

With Control of Senate Hanging in Balance, Insurance Groups Fear Possible One-Party Control

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OLDWICK, N.J. //BestWire// - With election day just weeks away and early polls showing the long-standing Republican senate majority in possible jeopardy, industry representatives are expressing fear of one party holding too much power in Congress.

“There is a tremendous amount of concern among our members about swing Senate seats this year,” said Joel Wood, senior vice president of government affairs for the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers. “I think the greatest concern we have about our specific agenda would be as a result of a Democratic sweep wherein the legislative filibuster is removed.”

Wood said in CIAB’s insurance political action committee this year health insurance interests have become the dominant players over property/casualty because of the “existential threat” public health insurance supported by Democrats could be to employer-sponsored plans.

“We would be very concerned about one-party control,”said Nathan Riedel, vice president, political affairs, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America.

But especially in the wake of COVID-19, P/C insurers are finding a seat at the table. Their role on Capitol Hill remains educational, an increasingly difficult task in a toxic political environment, said Jimi Grande, senior vice president of federal and political affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. He cited congressional efforts to retroactively and prospectively mandate that insurers cover pandemic-related business interruption losses.

“Think about how little understanding of insurance you would have to have to say (insurers should) fund BI going forward,” he said.

Among the Republican senators Riedel is concerned about losing is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a former insurance commissioner. Both of Georgia’s senate seats are up for grabs, he said, and so is Sen. Martha McSally’s seat in Arizona — being challenged by former astronaut Mark Kelly. McSally sits on the Senate Banking Committee, which works on insurance issues. “By and large ,the industry is weighing in heavily for most of these competitive seats,” Riedel said.

Insurance industry interests have spent more than $80 million on lobbying in Washington in the past weeks, trying to get the ear of senators and members of Congress who could vote in the future on measures to expand health coverage, change underwriting rules and other issues critical to the industry.

Leadership of the congressional committees that consider legislation important to the industry could change with the outcome of the Nov. 3 vote, although the final numbers in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority, might not be known for weeks. The Cook Political Report as of mid-October said Democrats’ chances of taking the Senate were improving. Democrats’ control of the House is likely to remain.

Health issues drove insurers to open the checkbook to lobbyists in 2020, with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association ($8.92 million); America’s Health Insurance Plans ($5.88 million); Cigna Corp. ($4 million); and Aflac ($3.99 million) the top four insurance lobbyist spenders, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

President Donald Trump’s support for a Supreme Court ruling dismantling the Affordable Care Act, and the Democrats’ full support of the law, loom for health writers. The court will hear arguments after the election in that case.

Spending in 2020 overall at the halfway point has outpaced 2016, when the industry spent $75.7 million (Best’s News, Oct. 26, 2016).

Additionally, insurers hope Congress and the administration can work out a deal to extend COBRA benefits for those who lost their jobs during the pandemic, Wood said. The House has passed the HEROES Act, which includes a provision to subsidize 100% of COBRA premiums for workers who would otherwise lose job-based coverage due to loss of employment or reduction in hours worked, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (Best’s News, May 18, 2020).

It has not moved in the Senate.

Following the four health insurance political action committees is the American Property Casualty Insurance Association committee, which spent $3.69 million lobbying in the first half of 2020, according to the center’s Open Secrets database. Records show its lobbyists’ top missions were support for coronavirus stimulus legislation and opposition to U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s H.R. 1756, the Preventing Credit Score Discrimination in Auto Insurance Act.

The bill would ban the use of a credit report, a credit score or other consumer credit information in determining automobile insurance coverage or rates (Best’s News, March 4, 2020). U.S. Sen. Cory Booker recently introduced a companion bill in the Senate (Best’s News, Oct. 6, 2020).

The issue relates to ongoing conversations about racial justice and equity in society, said Nat Wienecke, APCIA’s senior vice president of federal government relations.

“It’s a very difficult thing to discuss with members of Congress,” he said, still noting insurers need a variety of underwriting criteria to price products fairly relative to the actual risk in the community being served.

The P/C industry is also working with Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Steve Stivers to push through a business continuity program in the event of future pandemics, Wienecke said (Best’s News, May 26, 2020).

Permanently fixing holes in the National Flood Insurance Program also remains a priority, as is an infrastructure bill with a focus on resiliency, mitigating risks and sustainability, he added.

The center’s lobbying records show which pieces of legislation organizations backed or opposed. BCBSA and AHIP both had lobbyists working to pass stimulus bills, including the CARES Act, records show. Cigna lobbyists spent time on a set of three bills to limit “surprise” billing — House bills 3630, 861 and 3502, records show.

U.S. House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, a Democrat, has received nearly $200,000 this year from insurance industry sources, according to federal campaign data released Oct. 19

Among other things, Waters’ committee has been butting heads with the Trump administration over its proposal to weaken the disparate impact standard under the Fair Housing Act.

Property/casualty insurers have been in court trying protect their underwriting, saying keeping the Obama-era rule would allow individuals to file illegal discrimination claims against homeowners insurers without having to prove that anyone was treated differently because of their group membership (Best’s News, Nov. 4, 2014).

Insurance industry sources in 2020 poured more than $155,000 into the coffers of U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, chairman of the Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance, records show. But that wasn’t enough to prevent an upset in the Democratic primary.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, a Democrat, collected $102,375 from insurance sources, according to records released Oct. 16. Pallone, who was first elected to the seat in 1993, is running against Christian Onuoha, who ran a write-in campaign for the Republican nomination.

Pallone’s committee recently said it was going to investigate top health insurers who allegedly failed to provide coverage of COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing while at the same time reporting significant profits during the pandemic (Best’s News, Aug. 14, 2020).

Insurance contributions trickled to U.S. Rep. Al Green, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, who received $12,965, FEC records released Oct. 16 show.

(By Timothy Darragh, associate editor, BestWeek:

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