Composition of Advisory Unit on Insurance Attracts Fire
The state Department of Insurance announced Wednesday the appointment of an 11-member consumer advisory panel, but the majority of the panel is either government officials or insurance sellers and its makeup was immediately denounced by consumer groups.
Appointment of the panel, the first in department history, had been delayed for months while the names were reviewed in Gov. George Deukmejian’s office. Both Insurance Commissioner Bruce Bunner and John K. Geoghegan, secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, had said that all those appointed had to be approved by Deukmejian’s staff.
Bunner, in a statement announcing the appointments, hailed the new panel as “well-balanced, experienced and highly qualified” and said it would offer his department “a unique perspective regarding issues of concern to the public.”
Panel Makeup Criticized
But leading consumer advocates in the insurance field who have been pushing for more consumer input into department deliberations were quick to point out that six of the 11 members are either government officials or insurance brokers, three of each, and they said no one at all from their groups was named.
Harry Snyder, director of the West Coast regional office of the Consumers Union, said, “The governor has sold out the state of California by appointing people to the panel who do not have any consumer background or constituency and never have been present at any statewide consumer meetings.”
He added that it was “worse than tokenism” because the panel “will be used to rubber-stamp whatever the industry wants.”
Both Snyder and Steven Miller, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Insurance Consumer Action Network, said they had been told that Bunner had consulted insurance industry representatives before recommending the appointees but they said he had never consulted the consumer groups.
Bunner was reported by his office to be traveling from Washington, D.C., to California and was unavailable for comment.
But the Insurance Department’s chief of consumer affairs, Everett Brookhart, said that as far as the department is concerned, “our goal was to have a balanced consumer panel that would represent a broad consumer interest” and that that goal had been met.
Members of the panel include Richard Irmas, an insurance broker from Beverly Hills; Leroy Mobley, an insurance agent from Beverly Hills, and Gleeson L. Payne, a former state insurance commissioner who is now a Los Angeles insurance broker.
Government officials appointed include Richard A. Elbrecht, supervising attorney for the state Department of Consumer Affairs, George Carabalho, city manager of Bakersfield, and Sarah Flores, assistant chief deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum.
The five other appointees are C. Edward Corbett of the Westminster Neighborhood Assn. of Los Angeles; Alfred E. Hofflander, professor of finance and insurance at the UCLA Graduate School of Management; Harry Rheubottom of San Bernardino, member of the board of directors of the Legal Services for Older Persons agency; Mary Saied, an independent trucker from Van Nuys, and Sophie Chao Wong, founder and director of the Golden Security Thrift & Loan Assn. of Los Angeles.
Brookhart said Corbett has been “very much involved with critical issues involving affordability of insurance in South Los Angeles” and that Saied had “basically been critical of the department” when she testified at recent insurance hearings. He added that Rheubottom had won the Whitney Young Award for service to low-income families, and that Carabalho had been “associated with the California League of Cities’ committee on the advancement of women and minorities.”
Brookhart defended the inclusion of three insurance sellers on the consumers panel on the ground that “it is good to have people who understand the business” within such a group. He said the brokers, in addition, “are so active in the consumer issues of the day.”
But an aide to Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, the Los Angeles Democrat who sponsored legislation asking for the consumer panel, said Waters regards the appointments as “fairly outrageous.”
“We have a consumer’s advisory panel with a former insurance commissioner, an assistant to a supervisor who’s said there’s no insurance crisis and a bunch of business people and brokers,” said Stan DiOrio, the Waters aide who handles her insurance legislation.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Where are the consumers? . . . How can you justify having brokers on a consumers’ panel?”
The executive director of California Common Cause, Walter Zelman, also was critical, saying, “The thing that strikes me is that there was an exclusion of the consumer groups, not only from the panel but also from the process by which the panel was selected. So far as we know, not one consumer that has been involved in consumer issues this year was contacted by the commissioner.
“The insurance industry is clearly well represented on this panel and these are the people who have reasonably good access to the department already,” Zelman added. “The people who need access and the people from whom the commissioner really needs to hear more from are not represented.”
THE INSURANCE ADVISORY PANEL
The state Insurance Department on Wednesday named these 11 members of a consumer advisory panel:
George Carabalho C. Edward Corbett Richard A. Elbrecht Sarah Flores Alfred E. Hofflander Richard Irmas Leroy Mobley Gleeson L. Payne Harry Rheubottom Mary Saied Sophie Chao Wong
George Carabalho City Manager, Bakersfield C. Edward Corbett Westminster Neighborhood Assn., Los Angeles Richard A. Elbrecht Supervising Atty., State Dept. of Consumer Affairs Sarah Flores Asst. Chief Deputy to Supervisor Peter Schabarum Alfred E. Hofflander Professor, Finance and Insurance, UCLA Richard Irmas Insurance Broker, Beverly Hills Leroy Mobley Insurance Broker, Beverly Hills Gleeson L. Payne Insurance Broker, Former Calif. Insurance Commissioner Harry Rheubottom Civic Group Member, San Bernardino Mary Saied Independent Trucker, Van Nuys Sophie Chao Wong Founder, Golden Security Thrift & Loan Assn., Los Angeles