Bush may be loathed by most
Americans, but for our industry, he's looking better all the
time. History may judge him kindly.
I believe George W. Bush is a bold leader and that, like
Harry S Truman, history will judge him kindly.
There, got that out of the way.
What kind of a leader has he been for the insurance
industry? The record has its ups and downs. Let’s cover
three major issue areas I’m paid to influence—TRIA,
insurance regulatory reform and employee benefits.
TRIA. I’ll give the
president a big break at the moment, since he just signed a
seven-year extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. In a
congressional environment unfriendly to insurers, the TRIA
extension was a huge win for the industry and the business
Nobody made him sign it. With tanking approval ratings and
no member of his administration running to succeed him, the man
has nothing to lose.
The immediate post-9/11 President Bush championed TRIA. But
post-TRIA enactment? The right-wingers took charge of the
economic agenda and alleged TRIA was “crowding out”
private-sector innovation. The administration has fought for a
scaled-back program that would sunset as the global markets
learned how to price terrorism risk.
Now, this conservative Republican lobbyist gets a Barney
Frank-like fervor going on the subject of how the federal
government has a fundamental obligation to protect Americans
from the economic hazards posed by Islamic terrorists, with
TRIA being the logical public/private partnership to do it. The
ideologues who think markets will be just fine without TRIA are
dead wrong. But then again, the new extension means free
federal reinsurance well into the future, with insurers
providing and brokers selling. President Bush signed it into
law. This is a very good deal.
REGULATORY REFORM. From the
standpoint of getting things enacted on federal insurance
reform, neither the Bush administration nor Congress has
anything to show. No one I know ever expected this
Republican administration to touch, much less embrace, the
cause of progressive federal insurance intervention. The first
two Bush Treasury secretaries, Paul O’Neill and John
Snow, were politically weak, had little grounding in financial
regulation and no particular interest in the issue. Wall Street
legacy Hank Paulson has been a breath of fresh air. Assistant
Secretary David Nason has made a series of statements about the
obvious U.S. competitive disadvantage due to disjointed,
redundant, protectionist and ineffective state-by-state
regulations. The administration hasn’t endorsed the
Optional Federal Charter (OFC), but the rhetoric has been
extremely positive. Last fall, the department requested (in a
standard bureaucratic milquetoast way) comments on the subject.
In a telling bit of comic relief, the National Association of
Professional Insurance Agents, vying for the role of most
belligerently anti-reform, denounced the very act of Treasury
seeking comments, saying the deck is stacked in favor of the
Nothing much is going to happen on the OFC in 2008, but the
tone set by the Bush Treasury Department adds credibility to
the long-term effort.
EMPLOYEE BENEFITS. President
Bush is at the vanguard against federalization of health
insurance, and he’s opposed to creeping mandates. Good
for him. His 2000 campaign rhetoric in support of a
“patient bill of rights” hasn’t been matched
by action, which makes us happy, too. But Bush has been
stubborn, ideological and wrong on two issues throughout his
presidency: Association Health Plans (AHPs) and
“consumer-driven health care.”
The AHP proposal championed by the Administration would
exacerbate market inequities and allow actuarial cherry-picking
to run amok. When Republicans ran the House, they repeatedly
passed that AHP legislation, only to see it die in the Senate.
With Democrats in control of both chambers, it has zero
The “consumer-driven” issue has been more
problematic. Insured Americans generally don’t have
enough of a personal stake in health care funding decisions.
Health Savings Accounts and flex plans are the right kind of
“consumer-driven” tools to achieve these goals (and
they’re broker-friendly, too). But West Wing
conservatives have gone too far, advocating to eliminate tax
breaks for employers who provide health insurance for