- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — A House bill that would make the job of state insurance commissioner an elected position is winning support in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said yesterday.

The position currently is held by Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Republican who was appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., also a Republican.

“Ordinarily, I would reject [the bill] out of hand,” said Mr. Miller, Prince George’s County Democrat. “But based upon the secretary’s performance — in Hurricane Isabel and not holding a hearing in regards to these HMO rates — the bill will get some support in the House and Senate.”

Mr. Redmer was criticized last year for slow action on insurance claims from victims of Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003.

In January, Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch called for Mr. Redmer’s resignation because of a bulletin he posted that allowed health maintenance organizations (HMOs) to pass onto their customers a 2 percent tax on their premiums. Democratic lawmakers had imposed the tax that month by overriding Mr. Ehrlich’s veto of a medical malpractice insurance reform bill.

Mr. Busch yesterday said he considers Mr. Redmer — a former House delegate — a “friend” and is “torn” about efforts to make the insurance commissioner’s position an elected one.

“I think he has made some miscalculations … and some of the rationale is proving out,” said Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat. “But I have a hard time getting to that point right now.”

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus called the House bill “political” and “harmful,” and chided Mr. Miller for his comments.

“I think his view is discredited in view of the political context we are in right now,” said Mr. Stoltzfus, Somerset Republican. “That was on nobody’s radar screen at all prior to these political happenings, so I can’t believe that it’s not motivated by politics.”

But Delegate Herman L. Taylor II, Montgomery County Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, welcomed Mr. Miller’s views.

“I just hope that by having the insurance commissioner elected, it will bring a lot more accountability to the office and it will ultimately better the people,” said Mr. Taylor, who noted that states with elected commissioners generally have lower insurance rates.

Mr. Taylor’s bill has 24 Democratic sponsors and is before the House Economic Matters Committee.

Mr. Redmer, who is about halfway through a four-year term, would not address Mr. Miller’s comments. “That’s a legislative decision and that is why God invented legislators,” he said.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch have accused Mr. Redmer of partisan motivations in posting the bulletin, which said HMOs could pass on the tax on premiums if they notify the Maryland Insurance Administration in writing of their intentions.

A legal opinion from the state’s attorney general’s office found no wrongdoing in the Redmer bulletin.

Three HMO officials have distributed letters notifying their customers they are raising rates to pass on the 2 percent tax. The revenue from the HMO tax — about $64 million in three years — will be used to subsidize doctors’ malpractice insurance premiums.

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