Georgia’s insurance commissioner has several official duties, but two things he oversees have a significant impact on most consumers: auto insurance and health insurance.
How have the state’s consumers fared under the current commissioner, Ralph Hudgens? Not very well, actually.
It was reported recently that Georgia has had some of the highest auto insurance rate increases in the nation — more than twice the national average. Over the past four years, the state has ranked first or second in rate increases each year.
When Hudgens was questioned about this inconvenient fact, he placed the blame on a state law passed in 2008 that allows auto insurers to increase their rates without the insurance commissioner’s approval. They merely file their rate increases with the commissioner’s office and then start charging the higher rates to policyholders.
Hudgens is correct that the state law virtually gives insurers a blank check to charge whatever they like. The only problem with that explanation is that Hudgens was a member of the state Senate in 2008 and supported passage of that bill.
Hudgens was elected to his first term as insurance commissioner in 2010, so presumably he has been aware of the ongoing increases in auto insurance rates.
Hudgens could not have stopped the rates from taking effect, but he could have said something to legislators about it. He could have asked lawmakers to repeal or amend the law so that his office could help bring rates under control. He could have held press conferences to denounce the rate increases and perhaps shame some insurers to back down.
Hudgens did nothing, however, except sit back and draw his taxpayer-provided salary of $120,394 a year.
So he didn’t do such a good job — or any job — of trying to hold down auto insurance rates. What has Hudgens done in the health insurance arena?
The biggest change in health insurance since Hudgens first took office as commissioner has been the passage of the Affordable Care Act, known informally as Obamacare.
It should not be a surprise that Hudgens, a conservative Republican, tried to block the implementation of Obamacare. This was the one issue on which he has actually displayed some energy during his two terms as insurance commissioner.
During one appearance at a local Republican rally in 2013, Hudgens vowed, “The problem is Obamacare. Let me tell you what we’re doing: Everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”
At another Republican rally that same year, Hudgens declared: “I’m very passionate because I believe that Obamacare, if it is fully implemented, will destroy free enterprise in this country. The whole thing, I think, is designed to run the insurance companies out of business and go to a single-carrier system, which would be socialized medicine.”
Four years later, we know that Obamacare did not, in fact, destroy free enterprise and did not run insurance companies out of business.
Since Obamacare was fully implemented in 2014, it has enabled somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 Georgians to obtain health coverage through the health insurance exchange operated by the federal government.
Without Obamacare, most of those individuals either could not have afforded the premiums for health coverage or would not have been able to buy insurance at all because they had a pre-existing condition.
If Hudgens had had his way, roughly half a million Georgians would have been priced out of the health insurance market.
The one positive thing Hudgens can take credit for is his announcement in July that he won’t run for a third term as insurance commissioner in 2018.
“I ran for insurance commissioner because I believed I could be an effective advocate for consumers,” Hudgens said in announcing his retirement. Nearly every word in that statement was false.
There are several candidates already lining up to replace Hudgens. On the Republican side are Shane Mobley, Jay Florence and Jim Beck. On the Democratic side are Cindy Zeldin and Tomeka Kimbrough.
There is no way of knowing which of those candidates will win, but we can say one thing for sure. When the new commissioner shows up for work on his or her first day in office, he or she will already have accomplished as much for Georgia’s consumers as Hudgens did in his entire two terms.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.