California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and ConsumerWatchdog.org have a cozy relationship. In addition to receiving questionable no-bid government contracts from the Insurance Department that raised concerns among ethics experts, ConsumerWatchdog.org is the sole recipient of funds under Jones’ tenure of the department’s “intervenor fees,” pocketing $779,822 in fees in 2012 alone. In 2011, it also was the only collector of $849,194 of these fees, which ultimately are paid for by consumers.
So it was no surprise that legislators began questioning how ConsumerWatchdog – which snuck this special interest provision into a ballot measure it authored – has come to have corner the market for collecting the revenue from this program (it alone has raked in more than $5.6 million since 2008). In 2012, then-State Senator Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) called for legislative hearings on the matter, noting: “The Department should broaden its outreach to all Californians that have a legitimate interest in their insurance rates. We must get the facts about why more consumers are being excluded from the process.”
Prodded by Vargas, Jones countered the criticism with much fanfare. He announced the appointment of Ed Wu, as the new “public advisor” designated to broaden the intervenor program to more than the one group that set up the fees in the first place.
Said Jones at the time: “I’m hopeful that this appointment, combined with updated information about the intervenor process, will encourage public participation.”
Yet here we are in mid-April 2014 and there’s still no sign of the Insurance Department’s 2013 report on who’s getting paid up to $675 per hour for doing the job the Insurance Commission should essentially be doing itself. (As of mid-2013, a Department of Insurance report had identified no other intervenor fee recipients).
This shouldn’t be a heavy lift. In 2012, Jones’ department made 14 awards of fees (all to ConsumerWatchdog.org). In 2011, it made just six.
Which makes one wonder: Is the reason Jones hasn’t released his report for 2013 is that it is more evidence that he is joined at the hip with ConsumerWatchdog, which is proposing to give him unlimited power to regulate rates in its ballot measure this November (and giving itself even more intervenor fees by including the provision in a ballot measure yet again)? Or does it simply reflect that the Commissioner’s attempt to broaden the program was nothing more than a press release?
Perhaps the Legislature ought to show interest in this issue once again – and this time get results instead of a press release from the Insurance Commissioner.
Steven Maviglio is a consultant for Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs, a coalition of doctors, hospitals, health insurers, and employers.