Nine consumer protection bills sponsored by insurance commissioner signed into law in 2014

Posted in: Insurance Commissioner, Legislation, News January 08, 2015

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced that during the 2014 legislative session that Governor Jerry Brown signed nine bills sponsored by the California Department of Insurance (“CDI”).  A bill that adds protections for small businesses that took effect in 2014 and five other consumer protection bills that were implemented January 1, 2015.   Here is a list of them (taken from a CDI bulletin):

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Recent Federal Cases Applying the State and Federal Mental Health Parity Acts: What Do They All Mean?

Posted in: Case Updates, Class Actions, Health Insurance, Legislation November 18, 2014

The Federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (“MH Parity Act”) requires, at a minimum, that the financial requirements and treatment limitations for mental health benefits set by group health plans and health insurance carriers be no more restrictive than those provided for non-mental health medical benefits.  The MH Parity Act was originally signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and amended the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and Public Health Service Act and Internal Revenue Code in 2008.  Now, the MH Parity Act is at issue in an increasing number of cases and has been addressed several times by the federal courts in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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New California Law Requires that Short-Term Disability Policies Provide Coverage for Severe Mental Illness

Posted in: Disability Insurance, Legislation, News August 05, 2014

In a victory for insurance consumers and mental health advocates, a recent change to the California Insurance Code mandates that short-term disability insurance policies provide coverage for “severe mental illnesses” as that term is defined in the Insurance Code. Passed in 2013, and signed in to law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 4, 2013, Assembly Bill No. 402 (“AB 402”) added Section 10144.55 to the Insurance Code, effective July 1, 2014.  Section 10144.55 requires that every disability insurance policy with “a short-term limited duration of two years or less,” provide coverage for disabilities caused by severe mental illnesses.  Section 10144.55(b) defines “severe mental illnesses” as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depressive disorders (including postpartum depression), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), pervasive developmental disorder (autism), anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

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California Bans the Inclusion of Policy Provisions Giving Insurance Companies Discretionary Authority to Decide Claims

Posted in: ERISA, Insurance Commissioner, Legislation, News, Standard of Review October 07, 2011

In a major victory for consumers, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that makes discretionary clauses – typically contained in ERISA-governed life, health and disability insurance policies/ERISA plans void and unenforceable in new or renewed policies.  SB 621 was authored by Senate Insurance Committee Chair Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) and sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, and was similar to AB 1686 vetoed by Governor Schwarzenengger in 2010.   Discretionary clauses are provisions typically found in group life, health and disability plans that give the administrator/insurer the sole discretion to interpret the policy and to decide if a plan participant or beneficiary is entitled to plan benefits.  In ERISA cases, federal courts have interpreted these clauses to give administrators/insurers a higher standard of review when courts review their decisions.  This meant that the federal courts were required to give greater deference to decisions denying plan benefits under life, health or disability coverages, rather than weighing all the evidence under a “de novo” standard of review and making their own determination as to whether the insured was entitled to benefits under the policy or employee welfare benefit plan.

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New California Law Requires That Insurers and Agents Verify that an Annuity is Suitable for the Consumer

Posted in: Agent/Broker, Annuities, Insurance Commissioner, Legislation September 30, 2011

California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a new law that will provide increased protection to seniors and other consumers who are interested in purchasing an annuity.  AB 689, which was sponsored by the California Department of Insurance and authored by Assembly Budget Committee Chair Bob Blumenfield (D-San Fernando Valley), requires that insurers verify that an annuity purchase is suitable and appropriate for the consumer based on an evaluation of his or her age, income, financial objectives and ten other factors.  The bill was unanimously passed by both the state Senate and the state Assembly.

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California Insurance Commissioner Jones Announces New Regulations On Annuities For Seniors

Posted in: Annuities, Legislation, News March 14, 2011

In recent years there have been many cases of insurance agents selling unsuitable annuities to members of the public, especially seniors.  These annuities typically involve large premiums and very large cash surrender charges.  The large cash surrender charges are often in place for at least the first five years of the annuity and usually exist because of the very large commissions that are paid to the insurance agents selling them.  Also, the rates of return in the annuities are often misrepresented.  Insurers and their agents also often sell unsuitable annuities as part of 412(i) plans (named by the IRS Code section which applies to them), and sometimes the IRS disallows deductions, classifying them as abusive tax shelters.  In order for these annuities to be financially viable for persons or businesses buying them, the purchasers must keep them in force for many years.  Because many individuals and some businesses are not in a position to keep them in force for many years, and because they do not provide flexibility, they are often grossly unsuitable for the individuals or businesses purchasing them.  On March 7, 2011, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced new regulations aimed at protecting seniors from financial abuse by those…

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Dave Jones Reveals the Priorities for His Tenure as California's Insurance Commissioner

Posted in: Legislation, News January 18, 2011

California’s new Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones, identified his priorities at his inauguration on January 3.  He plans to accomplish his objectives by making the California Department of Insurance “the strongest consumer protection agency in the nation”, and he plans to “set the standard for other consumer protection agencies.”   His priorities are: Implementation of federal health care reform, and that includes continuing his fight for the authority to reject excessive health insurance premium increases; “[T]o level the playing field for consumers and business as they deal with insurance companies . . . to make sure that consumer complaints are being addressed and that insurance companies are not taking advantage of consumers;” Ensuring that California has a viable and competitive insurance market.

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California's Office of Administrative Law Approves Homeowners Underinsurance Regulations

Posted in: Homeowners Insurance, Legislation, News January 04, 2011

Because of fairly recent California wild fires and California’s history of rising property values (at least this was the case a few years ago), many California homeowners have found themselves underinsured for fire losses.  The California Department of Insurance has been considering new regulations governing standards and training for estimating replacement value on homeowners’ insurance for some time.  California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner had previously called for regulations that would provide more comprehensive and reliable estimates of what it might cost to completely rebuild a destroyed home.  Such estimates were previously unregulated and led homeowners to believe they needed less coverage than they truly did in the event of a disaster. 

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California's Largest Health Insurers are Fined by California Department of Managed Health Care for Inadequate Claims Practices

Posted in: Health Insurance, Legislation, News November 30, 2010

In today’s Los Angeles Times Business Section, Duke Helfand writes about an 18-month investigation by the California Department of Managed Health Care into the payment practices of Aetna Inc., Anthem Blue Cross of California, Blue Shield of California, Cigna Corp., Health Net Inc., Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and United Healthcare/PacifiCare. 

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Governor Schwarzenegger Vetoes AB 1868 That Would Have Banned Discretionary Clauses in Group Insurance Policies

Posted in: ERISA, Legislation, News, Standard of Review October 07, 2010

Today Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1868 that would have banned discretionary clauses in group insurance policies.  This is a disappointment to consumer groups but not to insurers who rely on them.  Currently, the Department of Insurance bans them in group policies anyway.  Here are the Governor’s comments on why it was vetoed: To the Members of the California State Assembly: I am returning Assembly Bill 1868 without my signature. This bill would prohibit the Insurance Commissioner from approving any disability or life insurance policy if it includes a provision that would reserve discretionary authority to the insurer to determine eligibility for benefits, and voids certain provisions of a policy or agreement if it provides or funds life insurance or disability insurance coverage. This bill is unnecessary, as the Insurance Commissioner already has the authority to prohibit the use of discretionary clauses. For this reason I cannot sign this bill. Sincerely, Arnold Schwarzenegger

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