Morrison: Keeping a close eye on insurers

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Remember Granny, the character in the “Sylvester and Tweety” Looney Tunes cartoons?

Every time Sylvester would come close to finally making a snack of her yellow canary, Granny would wallop him with her black handbag.

“Bad puddy cat, bad, bad, bad,” she’d say as she knocked Sylvester silly.

She might not appreciate the comparison, but state Insurance Commissioner Marcy Morrison reminds me a bit of Tweety’s owner.

Morrison, for the record, is a grandmother.

And like Granny, she can pack a punch.

Just ask some of the insurance companies doing business in Colorado.

Rather than conduct herself as an industry lapdog, Morrison has been a terrific watchdog, keeping a close eye on insurers and doing what she can to protect the interests of consumers.

Locals know Morrison as the woman who served as El Paso County commissioner between 1984 and 1992. She also served in the state House from 1992 to 2000 and was the mayor of Manitou for two terms.

Winning office wasn’t much trouble for Morrison; voters liked her and she handily won re-election whenever she ran.

Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Morrison as commissioner in early 2007. She’s been splitting her time between the Springs and Denver ever since.

As Business Journal reporter Amy Gillentine reported in these pages last week, anyone who buys health or other types of insurance in this state has had Morrison on their side.

Under Morrison, the Colorado Division of Insurance has stepped up examinations of insurers and, when appropriate, levied higher fines for violations.

Thanks to her department’s work, the state’s general fund is $1.5 million richer. Moreover, $3.1 million has been rebated to consumers and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield recently agreed to either credit or repay $20 million to about 90,000 Coloradans.

The deal between Anthem and Morrison’s agency stemmed from complaints by individual health policyholders about three rate hikes totaling 30 percent in slightly more than a year.

The DOI decided the increases weren’t as much of a problem as their frequency. Anthem admitted no fault or wrongdoing and faced no civil penalty. But that’s not as important as the fact that the agency put things right.

“I was appointed by the (Bill) Ritter administration to be a strong consumer advocate — and that’s what I’m doing,” Morrison told Gillentine.

Indeed, she has.

Rate disputes aren’t the only battles Morrison has fought.

She’s now dealing with insurers that are threatening to pull out of the child-only individual market.

They’re doing so because the national health care reforms passed this year prohibit denying insurance based on pre-existing conditions.

Morrison is optimistic a solution will be found. And while she’s intent on protecting consumer interests, she’s also sensitive to insurers’.

“Some companies don’t want to pull out of the market, but they also don’t want to handle all the risk alone,” she said. “We’ll find a resolution.”

Some insurers, as might be expected, aren’t happy with Morrison. They claim the paperwork generated by a DOI market exam takes months to complete. Others complain the division gives them too little time to gather the requested information.

What’s Morrison’s response?

“We’re regulators, and our job is to make sure that the policies and paperwork are as right as they can be,” she said. “It’s as simple as that. We do these exams because we saw a need to do them. We were seeing more mistakes, hearing more complaints.”

There are, without a doubt, plenty of insurers that do all they can to fly right. But the industry has its bad boys and, thanks to Marcy Morrison, they’ve had to be on their best behavior or face the consequences.

With Ritter leaving office next year, Morrison won’t be in her post for much longer.

Bad regulators overreact. Good ones know how to keep the needs of business and consumers in balance. Morrison is one of the better ones, and I hope whoever wins the governor’s office can find someone as good as Morrison to replace her.

Allen Greenberg is editor of the Business Journal. Reach him at allen.greenberg@csbj.com or 719-329-5206.