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My Take on the GOP Insurance Commissioner’s Race.

The further we get down the ballot, the less research people are willing to do in order to make informed decisions. By default, the lack of influence and information circulating about the lower ballot races often leaves us with elected officials we wish weren’t elected. Offices like Insurance Commissioner and Public Service Commissioner are often less exciting, as even the jobs are boring, but they’re important. So hang in there and continue seeking information before you head to the polls.

Current Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens announced in June of 2017 that he would not seek re-election. He was first elected in 2010 and has served two four-year terms. The Office was chastised last year for going over the budget and forcing layoffs and furloughs and his office garnered a lot of negative publicity over the years for repeatedly approving the premium hikes for health insurance companies and automobile companies. And we’ve been ranked nationally as the first or second in most recent years when it comes to rate increases. In fact, few good things have come out of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner and most are happy to see Hudgens off to do something else. The bar here is set very low.

Unfortunately, two of the candidates seeking to replace Hudgens, who also happen to be the frontrunners, worked for Hudgens during his tenure.

The candidates running on the Republican ballot for Insurance Commissioner include Jim Beck, Jay Florence, and Tracy Jordan.  At one point. Shane Mobley, a middle Georgia Republican, was also running, but he departed the race and is seeking a State House seat instead. If you planned on voting for him for Insurance Commissioner, you’ll have to find another option.  One of the three Republicans will face one of the two Democrats – Janice Laws or Cindy Zelden – in November.

Jim Beck

Visit his website

Beck is a former Deputy Insurance Commissioner, has a degree in marketing, and served as the Chief of Staff to Hudgens. He’s also worked at an independent insurance agency and a casualty insurance company. He serves as a guest editor for STAND UP GEORGIA, an entity that has been used to advance his message throughout the campaign through email blasts. He also worked for the Georgia Underwriting Association – a state-created insurance company that was created to help people get insurance when they can’t in the open market. He resigned after a Fox I-team investigation which highlighted his work at the Association while working full-time at the Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s Office.

He’s married to his wife, Lucy, with whom they have one son – Jimmy Beck, Jr. They live in Carrollton.

 

FUNDRAISING:

As of the March 31 fundraising deadline, Beck had raised $1,163,593.00 with $44,928.82 in in-kind non-monetary donations. He’s raised thousands more, as reported on his two-day reports, since the March 31 reporting.

ON THE ISSUES

  • “He knows where fraud occurs and how to stop it in its tracks.” per his website
  • He promises to “deploy four rolling regional offices, where one can sit down across the table and talk face-to-face with an investigator.”
  • On his website, he promises to double the penalties on insurance companies guilty of victimizing veterans and the elderly.
  • He will make complaint statistics public for all insurers doing business in Georgia.
  • Beck promises to hold tele-town halls on insurance premium hikes
  • His website lists him as a grassroots conservative who “ is often seen speaking on Fox News, CNN, and other nationwide stations defending our Georgia values.”

PROS: He knows the industry.

CONS: He worked for Hudgens and he’s raised over $1,000,000 for this race, meaning he likely “owes” people. Additionally, doubling penalties for certain classes of people is similar to hate crime legislation – it creates some classes of people that are more equal under the law than others. That’s not a conservative ideal.

Jay Florence

Visit his website

An Athens resident, Florence is an attorney and is listed as the former Georgia Deputy Insurance Commissioner. His website touts that he was the campaign manager for the Hudgens re-election campaign, that he served as an Enforcement Attorney for the office, partnered with the Georgia General Assembly as an employee for the Office of Insurance, and spent time working for Senator David Shafer. He bounced around on jobs, campaigns, and eventually returned to the Department of Insurance in January 2017, about six months ahead of Hudgens’ announcement to resign.

FUNDRAISING:

As of the March 31 filing deadline, Florence had raised $731,614.00. His two-day reports indicate that since March 31, he’s collected more than $50,000 in donations since the reporting period.

Florence is also backed by an independent political action committee, Insuring America’s Future, which is littering mailboxes with pro-Florence literature. The PAC has $224,000 in donations (as of May 8) from insurance companies.  Former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has also donated $6,600 to Florence.

On this issues: 

  • “He will put the insurance Department on an equal footing with the big insurance companies and make sure that you have someone that will look out for you.”
  • “Insurance Fraud costs all of us money.  Jay will make sure that criminals are prosecuted and has a history of doing so.”
  • “Jay will work to make sure that Georgia has the most competitive insurance marketplace in the country and ensure that Georgia’s consumers have choices.”
  • He touts catching $7 million in fraud while working at the Office.

His website also highlights that he was endorsed by UGA Coach Ray Goff and radio host Erick Erickson.

PROS: Having served as the Deputy Insurance Commissioner under Hudgens, he’s already familiar with the office. He’s worked in several departments in the office as well.

CONS: He’s endorsed by current Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, which means he’s likely to carry on the legacy of destruction we’ve seen out of the office in the last 8 years. Florence is the top recipient of campaign donations for auto and health insurance companies. And, did you read those positions points? There’s very little substance. No meat. I recognize that insurance can be complicated, but voters aren’t so dense that they can’t comprehend basic policy positions.  On a petty note, I found it odd that his website refers to him as “Mr. Florence,” as if he is some kind of superior before even being elected.

Tracy Jordan

Visit her website

Jordan is a Pharmacist, a full-time Realtor and a Hoschton City Council member. She also owned her own business, West Jackson Medicine Center, for 19 years before merging with another company. She touts her time as a pharmacist and her work to help people fight their insurance companies for claim payments and timely reimbursements as one of her qualifications for office.

FUNDRAISING:

As of the March 31 filing deadline, Jordan raised $40,570.00.

On the issues:

  • Jordan wants to “End “File and Use” which would repeal the Legislation from 2008 which has allowed for the escalation of Automobile Insurance Premiums.
  • She pledges to reform reimbursement policies which often lead to “Delayed payments, ridiculous Prior Authorization Practices, and unfair reimbursements” that have “caused many Independent Pharmacies and Private Practice Physicians to close or merge their practices.”
  • Jordan pledges, on her website, to protect consumers and make filing complaints a more simple process
  • She’s also quoted as saying she would ban insurance and small loan executives from giving to candidates for insurance commissioner.

PROS: She hasn’t worked for Hudgens. She’s also served in elected office before but isn’t a career politician. Her low donations mean she isn’t accountable to insurance companies on Day 1.

CONS: She’s underfunded. She also comes from the industry side of pharmaceuticals so she could be limited in her knowledge elsewhere. The Office is

 

God willing, one of the first things the next Commissioner will do is get a new website. The Primary Election is May 22…if you haven’t already heard.

 

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Today I got new health insurance…

Today, after a series of chaotic calls to my health insurance provider and a perusal of Healthcare.gov options to compare health insurance, I finally got the new one.

I was notified in mid-January that I would be dropped because of a “business decision by Humana to eliminate plans like [mine].” After 7 static years, I was told that even though I liked my plan, I could not keep it.

Not looking forward to the process of obtaining new insurance, I did sign up for the Healthcare.gov to see what plans were available for me. What I found was that I could get the exact same coverage for a doubled monthly premium and a deductible twice what I currently had. Joy!

So, in all my procrastination and consideration for different companies, I called Humana Monday morning with just 18 hours until my coverage was to lapse.

After a ‘brief’ hold time of just 11 minutes, I was connected a man named Hernando. My recently acquired friend Hernando had such a thick accent that I found myself squinting every time he spoke, but considering the timeliness of my call, I knew I would need to give Hernando the benefit of the doubt. He seemed to have a good attitude and called me “Miss Jessica.” Still, despite being 8:15 a.m., I felt like I needed to pour myself a glass of sangria.

Hernando asked me to confirm my Social Security number as well as my most recent address on file. I offered him my current address, the one I held in 2015, the addresses of my the homes I lived in in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010. None of them matched. Why? Because despite my requests, which Hernando confirmed were noted in my file, Humana had not updated my address since 2009. After 8 guesses and an offer to mail a blood sample to confirm my identity, we unlocked the treasure chest of plans for which I qualify.

Or so I thought. Turns out Hernando wasn’t all that good with the system, so he had to place me on hold to ask a colleague. I’m not exaggerating when I say that a rendition of the song below, the circus tune, is what played when I was on hold. How fitting.

 

Hernando returned after another ‘brief’ hold to let me know that there were 5 plans for which I was eligible, and we discussed them at length.

If I wanted the same coverage as before with the same deductible – which was already $3,500-, I could pay a premium three times as high as my last one. If I wanted to keep my premium the same, I could raise my deductible to $6,850. Not to delve too far into the personal side of things, but I’m not exactly at a point in my life where I can fork out thousands a month for health care coverage.

Hernando, despite working for Humana, wanted to emphasize that I could go on the exchange, still have Human coverage, but instead pay a subsidized amount and receive credits.

I would rather die

I asked him if, under the plan I was considering, women’s annual visits were covered. Hernando replied, “Like, you mean a check up?” No, an actual annual visit to a doctor only women see. “Oh Miss Jessica!! I do not know. You can see a primary care doctor for $25 co-pay three times under this plan.”

“Hernando, I’m sitting here drinking a protein shake that tastes like grass. I do everything I can to avoid the doctor. I don’t like doctors and I don’t like medicine. I just want to visit my doctor once a year to make sure that when the time is right, I can procreate. I don’t really want to explain to you what that entails, but it’s not a primary care check-up. That is the only reason I’m getting health insurance.”

“Okay, Miss Jessica. If I may, place you on a brief hold again.” Hernando had to call his supervisors in another office because he didn’t want to give me the wrong information. Apparently, the information on the health prompter

[insert circus music]

At this point, I began to think that perhaps I could go a year without healthcare coverage and see how things work out. After all, barring anything catastrophic, I’m out almost $7,000 anyway. I frequently get kidney stones, but it doesn’t cost near that to be hooked up to morphine for a bit when they hit.

It’s amazing how quick your thoughts seem to come and go when circus music is playing in the background, too. I think I could almost feel my eyes dilating.

After seven minutes of the holding again, Hernando returned to let me know that, yes, it was considered preventative care and I was indeed covered for the services I need. We agreed to start the application but I would need to be placed on a brief hold while he completed the paperwork.

He asked a few questions about my lifestyle choices, and said, “Miss Jessica, one more thing before I place you on a brief hold: is that Jessica with one ‘S’ or a double ‘S’ like “sst sst”

…What? Two. J-E-S-S-I-C-A. (Keep in mind, he is looking at a file that has 7 years of information on me.)

[Cue circus music]

After 11 more minutes of high-wire walks and elephant tricks, Hernando returned to confirm my  data and take payment information. My coverage is effective tomorrow, but barring some heavy-duty tax refund come April 15, I can’t reasonable afford to meet my deductible.

At the end of the day, I walked away with mediocre coverage and a $6,850 deductible “just in case” something happens. I also had to explain intricate health care services to  a non-native man with clearly no knowledge of the industry. The system is so very broken and the insurance companies are hiring people like Hernando, who may have nice customer services skills, but knows nothing about what they’re doing – just to stay afloat. At the end of the year, we’ll see if this was the right decision.

But, I don’t know what I fear more: the IRS and our government heavily entrenched in our healthcare or actually having to utilize my healthcare coverage.

No, Employers shouldn’t get tax breaks for paying student loan debt

I’ve seen a few articles circulating the social media networks lately following the bill introduced by Congressman Rodney Davis which would grant employers a tax break, up to a certain amount, for loan assistance they offer their employees. AllOnGeorgia.com recently ran an Associated Press article on the issue as well.

Essentially, The Employer Participation in Student Loan Assistance Act proposes making a maximum of $5,250 a year in employer payments for student loan debts tax-free for the worker, and eligible for tax breaks for the employer.

I don’t know where to begin. We’ve over-incentivized student loans for so long causing what we now know to be the “student loan bubble” that is, in fact, on the verge of collapse, and the first step of a solution is to make sure the student gets an “untaxed gift” because someone else pays for something that is considered a burdensome debt?

We, as a nation, created this monster when we opened the flood gates of student loans to everyone – regardless of major, institution, amount, or ability to repay. Then we expanded the payment plans to be income-based, staggered, deferred, anything at all to make it “easier.” We allow interest on student loans to be tax-deductible much like a mortgage. But let’s face it: It isn’t working. The average amount of student loan debt of the 2014 graduating class was nearly $30,000 and almost 14% of those in repayment are in default.

I’ve been open and honest about my student loan debt. It’s suffocating and probably a mistake. Some days I wish I hadn’t gone to grad school, because the percentage of my work that entails what I learned is minimal, but I did and I recognize my own personal responsibility about it. I have to pay it back no matter what the cost and no matter long it takes. No one made me pull out a loan for school.

You wouldn’t ask your employer to include a loan reimbursement for your mortgage, or your car, or your credit card debt, or starting your side small business as part of your benefits package (the latest could be managed by Lendgenius for short term loans). What is the difference here? The student loan operation is already so far from the reality of life. You don’t pay your mortgage back based on income. You can’t refinance your house at a lower amount because you lose your job or take a pay cut.

This is the federal government we’re talking about here. If you offer a tax deduction for it, you’re encouraging a subsidy.

By continuing to manipulate the market and incentivize different behavior, we’re only pushing the already overloaded bubble one step closer to explosion. The correct answer is not to talk about the deductions taxpayers get for “something else,” because any tax deduction is a step away from lassiez faire economics. What we don’t pay now, we’ll be paying for later.

When this $1.2 trillion bubble bursts, it will be worse than the mortgage crisis. Except this time, it won’t be the big banks the fail. It will be federal government. And let’s not trick ourselves into thinking it’s a conservative foundation to use the government to incentivize someone to do anything.

I’ve said it before – if you’re unwilling to payback an investment you made into yourself, you’ll never be willing to pay back anything