Insurance commissioner thanks consumers

by Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger

This is my last monthly column as Kansas Commissioner of Insurance. My third term of office will officially be over Monday, Jan. 12, when Ken Selzer becomes the 25th Kansas commissioner.

For the past 12 years it has been my pleasure to serve Kansans as the steward of the commissioner’s office. Winning three statewide general elections has been especially gratifying for me. I hope that those victories have been in large part because voters have agreed with me on the need for the insurance department to balance consumer education, industry regulation and consumer advocacy.

When I began my first term in 2003, I wrote that I wanted to serve Kansans “promptly, fairly and efficiently.” Standing up for consumers, strengthening competitive balance in the marketplace and streamlining services were and still are very important aspects of this job.

I think we accomplished those goals in many ways.

Consumers have always been the biggest priority in our office during my tenure. The idea of “doing the right thing” has been a catch phrase for our outstanding staff. We have been fortunate to have caring, compassionate people working to answer questions and resolve problems for Kansans. We haven’t always been able to satisfy consumers completely, but we always treated them with respect and concern.

Strengthening the marketplace happened with our emphasis on increasing the number of companies doing business in Kansas. Since 2003 more than 240 more insurance companies have begun doing business in our state, despite a static population and a static economy. Competition in the marketplace always produces more benefits for consumers, and it is a noble goal to continue seeking more competition. But it’s tough, believe me.

Streamlining services at the insurance department has gone hand in hand with technological advances. For consumers, it has happened with the emergence of our outstanding online website, and, during the past two years, the additional website for health insurance marketplace signup information.

For agents and companies, our online agency and company renewal processes have made life simpler for licensing and continuing education requirements.

With our goals firmly planted, we went through many insurance peaks and valleys over the past dozen years. One of the first situations we encountered concerned the proposed sale of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas to Anthem Inc. Although the proposal and the ensuing lawsuit began with my predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, the court decision to nullify the sale came early in my first term. I supported the nullification, and, as it turned out, BCBS of Kansas, as a standalone company, has continued to be a strong presence for health insurance in the state.

We saw other headline-grabbing situations emerge: the Greensburg tornado devastation, the collapse of Brooke Corporation, the sale of Security Benefit Corporation to Guggenheim Partners, scams concerning Medicare and life insurance sales to strangers, the Great Recession, and, of course, the federal health care legislation.

Through all of them the Kansas Insurance Department worked hard to protect consumers’ insurance interests and money. I think our track record is pretty good. The department staff kept you informed and educated, and that has made all the difference.

I leave office with a sense of accomplishment for Kansas consumers and the Kansas insurance industry. Thank you for your trust in me. It was an honor to work for you.

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