Washington, D.C. - United States Senators John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) have introduced the "National Insurance Act of 2006," legislation that would allow life and property/casualty insurers to choose federal rather than state charters under an "optional federal charter" regulatory system.Sununu and Johnson, both members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, introduced the legislation on Wednesday, April 5. The measure has been referred to the Banking Committee where hearings are expected later this spring.

"Unlike the modernization of banking and securities of the late 1990s under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the insurance industry remains subject to a patchwork of state regulations that have stifled competition, innovation, and growth," said Sununu. "The existing governing system spreads across more than 50 jurisdictions and has proven burdensome and expensive for all concerned. A more uniform regulatory environment mirroring the highly successful dual banking system is long overdue and stands to substantially improve the environment for those who buy, sell, and underwrite life and property and casualty insurance."

"State commissioners may have hoped to achieve uniformity and market-based reform within the state regulatory scheme, but those improvements have simply not occurred and are not expected in the near future," Sununu continued. "Streamlining an overwhelming and tangled web of state rules for financial regulation, licensing, policy forms, rates, and market conduct exams under an 'optional federal charter' system will encourage greater competition. Moreover, new and innovative insurance products will become available to the consumer more quickly."

Senator Johnson stated: "There is broad consensus that it is time for regulatory reform of the insurance system to address inefficiencies and inconsistencies, and I am very pleased to be working with Senator Sununu on this important issue. The National Insurance Act of 2006 is about choice. Consumers should have the benefit of the greatest array of product choice the industry can provide and insurance companies should have a choice between state and federal regulation. In crafting this legislation, we were careful to preserve the role of state legislatures and their ability to continue regulating insurance in their states. We also specifically included an office designed to advocate on behalf of consumers' interests."

The key points in the proposed legislation include the following:

Optional Federal Charter and Regulation: Establishes a parallel, federal system of regulation and supervision for insurers and insurance producers (agents and brokers), similar to the dual banking system. Insurers and producers are free to elect federal or state regulation, charters and licenses. States would maintain responsibility of regulating state licensed insurers and producers.

The Office of National Insurance: An independent Office of National Insurance is created within the Department of the Treasury, similar to the OCC and OTS, and its Commissioner would be appointed by the President for a five-year term, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

National Life Insurers and National Property and Casualty Insurers: The NIA authorizes the chartering of two different types of insurance companies: National Life Companies and National Property and Casualty Companies. The underwriting of life insurance and P/C insurance is separated, but a holding company is permitted to own both a National Life Insurer and a National P/C Insurer.

National Agencies and Federally-Licensed Producers: The NIA authorizes the chartering and licensing of National Insurance Agencies and the licensing of federal insurance producers. A National Agency would be authorized to sell insurance for any federally chartered or State licensed insurer. A federally licensed insurance producer could sell insurance in any State on behalf of any National Insurer or a State Insurer. Additionally, a State licensed insurance producer could sell insurance on behalf of any insurer, including National Insurers, operating within the State in which the producer holds a license.

Conversions Between State and Federal Status: State licensed insurers would be free to convert to a national charter. Likewise, National Insurers would be free to convert to a State charter.

Applicable State Law: The activities and operations of federally chartered and licensed entities would be primarily subject to federal law. However, National Insurers and federally licensed insurance producers would be subject to certain categories of State law. These categories include: (1) State tax laws; (2) State unclaimed property and escheat laws; (3) State laws related to participation in assigned risk plans and other mandatory residual market mechanisms that are designed to make insurance available to those unable to obtain insurance in the voluntary market; and (4) State laws that provide for compulsory coverage of workers' compensation or motor vehicle insurance.

Regulatory and Supervisory Powers: The Commissioner has a comprehensive set of supervisory and regulatory powers. National Insurers are subject to examinations every three years, and National Agencies and federally licensed producers are subject to examination in response to a complaint or evidence of a violation of the law or regulations. National Insurers are subject to risk-based capital standards, investment standards, and asset and liability valuation requirements that are based upon model laws and regulations developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). National Insurers are subject to an independent audit committee requirement, limitations on dividends, and limitations on transactions with affiliates.

Enforcement Powers: The Commissioner is given enforcement powers patterned after those available to the federal banking agencies, permitting him/her to: (1) revoke or suspend a charter or license; (2) issue a cease and desist order, including an order that mandates affirmative actions, such as the sale of assets or the hiring of new management; (3) remove or suspend individual officers, directors, controlling shareholders, agents and consultants; and (4) impose civil fines of up to $1 million a day for violations of law or regulations or improper conduct.

Ombudsman: An Ombudsman is established within the Office of National Insurance and shall act as a liaison between the Office and any person adversely affected by the Office's supervisory and regulatory activities. Powers of the Ombudsman include: (1) assuring that complainants are encouraged to come forward and that confidentiality is preserved; (2) staying any appealable decision or action with prior consent of the Commissioner; and (3) reporting any weakness in policy or procedures and recommending changes for improvement.

Consumer Protection: There is established a Division of Consumer Protection within the Office of National Insurance. The Commissioner is directed to issue market conduct regulations to prevent unfair methods of competition and unfair and deceptive acts and practices by National Insurers, National Agencies and federally licensed insurance producers. At a minimum, these regulations must address the advertising, sale, issuance, distribution and administration of the insurance policies and products of National Insurers, as well as claims under such policies and products. The Commissioner is directed to establish a Fraud Division within the Office, and makes the commission of a "fraudulent insurance act" a federal crime. The NIA subjects National Insurers to federal antitrust laws.

Self Regulatory Organizations: The Commissioner is authorized to register and oversee self-regulatory organizations for federally chartered and licensed insurers, agencies and producers. Key powers of the Commissioner, such as chartering and merger and conversion determinations, may not be delegated to a self-regulatory organization.

Receiverships for Rehabilitation or Liquidation: The Commissioner may place a National Insurer into receivership for rehabilitation or liquidation for a number of circumstances, including the insolvency of a National Insurer. The Office of National Insurance must be appointed as the receiver, and as a receiver, the Office is given all of the powers of the Insurer. The Commissioner is directed to issue regulations governing receiverships that are based upon the Uniform Receivership Law adopted by the Interstate Insurance Receivership Compact Commission in September 1998.

Guaranty Fund: Additionally, National Insurers, as a general rule, must belong to the State guaranty associations in each State in which they offer insurance. These associations assume obligations to policyholders, up to certain limits, when an insurer is placed into receivership. If a State guaranty association does not provide policyholders with a level of protection equivalent to NAIC model standards, a National Insurer must join the National Insurance Guaranty Corporation (established under the NIA) which would provide such protections to policyholders. The Corporation would have separate accounts for life insurance and property and casualty insurance, and similar to State guaranty associations, would be post-funded with assessments of its member companies.

Source: The Office of Senator John E. Sununu

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