The insurance industry has mixed feelings about California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, assessing him as average or below average in a handful of categories.
In a poll conducted by Insurance Journal, industry respondents gave Jones an overall grade of “D,” although as many respondents to the poll assigned the first-year commissioner a “B” as they did an “F.”
Comments from poll takers on Jones performance ranged from high praise to harsh criticism.
“Best state insurance commissioner in my opinion,” one poll taker wrote.
Said another: “Commissioner Jones is the worst commissioner in the United States, by a long way.”
The informal poll on InsuranceJournal.com, conducted from mid-January through the beginning of March, presented six questions related to Jones’ performance. The poll enabled respondents to remain anonymous, and provided an opportunity for poll takers to leave comments explaining their grades.
The grades are as follows:
- Industry Communication = C
- Public Communication = C
- Legislation = D
- Regulatory Matters = C
- Business Friendly = D
- Overall Rating = D
Jones, a Harvard Law School graduate who rose from the ranks of Sacramento City Council, is a well-known Democratic politician who served in the Assembly for seven years before being elected to the insurance commissioner post as successor to Steve Poizner. He started serving as commissioner on Jan. 3, 2011.
While the majority of those who took the poll gave Jones low marks for his overall rating, there were a large percentage of respondents who also gave him high marks in several categories.
Of the poll questions, Jones’ highest average grades were a “C” for “Industry Communication,” “Public Communication” and “Regulatory Matters.”
For “Industry Communication,” 30 percent of respondents gave Jones a “C.” A large number, 20 percent, gave him a “D,” followed by 18 percent who assigned him an “F.” A little over 15 percent give him a “B,” and slightly over 14 percent of respondents gave Jones an “A.”
According to one comment, Jones’ office has started to improve its communication with the industry just recently.
“Jones has improved his communication with industry and accessibility during the second year of his administration,” the commenter stated. “His staff now meets with industry to determine if concerns are presented by legislative and regulatory proposals that his office is interested in advancing. His office and industry don’t always agree, but the frequency of dialogue has improved.”
Another commenter stated:
“CDI’s communication with other insurance industry markets, such as healthcare, has been very good, but P&C has gotten neglected.”
A harsher Jones communication critic stated: “He’s almost invisible, except in the press.”
Byron Tucker, California’s deputy insurance commissioner for communications and press relations, said Jones has been accessible to the industry, and that Jones’ grades would be much different had this been a consumer poll.
“The administration of Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has been both accessible and fair with the insurance industry it regulates,” Tucker said. “It’s no secret that this has been an administration full of action and consumer protection. Had this been a consumer protection survey, I’m quite certain the results would be spectacularly different.”
Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based consumer advocacy group often at loggerheads with the insurance industry, agrees with Tucker’s assessment about Jones record as a consumer advocate.
“The industry spent at least $5 million to defeat him a year ago,” said Consumer Watchdog spokesman Doug Heller, referring to Jones’ campaign in 2010. “The insurance industry was predisposed to dislike Commissioner Jones because he campaigned as an activist for consumers. And the truth is he has been a strong advocate for consumers, which is what California wants in a commissioner.”
Heller said he expects Jones’ pro-consumer first year to continue throughout his service as commissioner.
“So far Dave Jones has been a very strong advocate on behalf of consumers, and I expect him to continue to be so,” Heller said, adding that “every day the insurance industry is trying to convince him to give the industry a break, to let them get away with something, and it’s his job to score 100 percent for consumers every day.”
For “Public Communication,” 34 percent of poll takers gave Jones a “C.” However, exactly as many assigned him an “F” as they did an “A” (13 percent for each of those grades). Just over 23 percent gave Jones a “B,” and nearly 16 percent gave him a “D” in that category.
The harshest critics of Jones and the Department of Insurance’s public communication efforts said he and his office ignore the good that the insurance industry does, and instead focus on topics that grab headlines.
“He and his office rarely have anything constructive to say about the insurance industry,” one commenter said. “It is impossible to see everything coming out of the DOI, but I have yet to read any comments from him expressing appreciation for the financial stability our industry provides California. Rather he seems most interested in politically popular theater by jerking the choke chain around insurers’ necks.”
Some comments came with suggestions for Jones and his staff.
“Jones is average on communicating his initiatives to the public,” another commenter stated. “To date he frequently and almost exclusively relies on press releases and various trade (and other) media. Jones could improve in this area by hosting town hall meetings, informational campaigns (e.g. wildfire prevention) and raising his visibility in the public eye.”
In matters of “Legislation,” more than 28 percent gave Jones a “D,” with criticism like, “Jones has an (adversarial) relationship with the insurance industry. Jones will continue to add regulations to burden the industry and increase costs for the consumer and reduce the number of insurance carriers that want to bother with California. He wants to kill the ‘Golden Goose’ with regulations and additional costs.”
Despite the poor grade for “Legislation,” several people who took the poll, nearly 24 percent, gave Jones a “C” in that category. An equal number of respondents (20 percent) gave him a “B” or an “F,” while less than 9 percent gave him an “A.”
The comments from those grading Jones on “Regulatory Matters,” for which most respondents assigned him a “C,” were similar to those for “Legislation.”
“He is heavy handed and does not care,” one commenter stated. “He believes he is KING and he will protect the consumer to the ultimate detriment of the industry.”
For that category nearly as many respondents gave Jones an “F” as they did a “C,” while nearly 18 percent gave him a “D,” 16 percent gave him a “B” and 9 percent gave him an “A.”
Do you think the insurance industry feels Jones is “Business Friendly?” Less than 10 percent think so. That’s how many gave Jones an “A.” More than half of respondents gave him failing grades of “D” or “F.” But just over 24 percent gave Jones a “C,” and 12 percent assigned him a “B.”
“Jones’ penchant for consumer advocacy as a legislator and now regulator doesn’t endear him to the business community,” wrote one commenter. “He could improve his ranking in this category by becoming more open to striking a reasonable balance between the two competing interests of consumer protection/advocacy and free enterprise/job creation.”
Another wrote: “I think his strong support for health care regulation was opposed by most business groups. He does, however, understand workers’ compensation and I think his work in this area will benefit the business community.”
Another commenter pointed out that Jones supported Senate Bill 684, which requires that employers be allowed to negotiate when insurers intend to use arbitration to resolve disputes and enables employers to decide whether to resolve arbitration disputes in California and under California law. That was a “Business friendly bill” in that it benefited California employers, according to the commenter.
A common theme from commenters offering up criticism for Jones is that he is politically driven, and his goal as insurance commissioner is more to score political points than serve as the industry’s chief regulator in California.
“So what else is new?” one commenter wrote. “Another politically ambitious politician using the commissioner’s position as a spring board to higher office.”