Praeger seeks second term as commissioner
Sandy Praeger says her job as Kansas insurance commissioner is a balancing act that seeks to protect consumers while at the same time fostering a healthy business environment for insurers.
Now, her first term nearly complete, Praeger hopes she can first convince fellow Republicans - then all Kansas voters - to return her for a second four-year term in the post.
"Our real, primary responsibility is to make sure that when somebody buys insurance, that's a contract, and we want to make sure that the promise to pay, which is inherent in that contract, is upheld," Praeger said during a campaign stop Monday in Leavenworth. "When that doesn't happen, then we are there to be an advocate for those consumers.
"Also, to be a good consumer advocate means that we want to have a regulatory environment that encourages companies to come to Kansas and stay in Kansas."
Praeger, a Lawrence Republican, spoke Monday to the Leavenworth County Republican Women's Club at its meeting at High Noon Saloon. She was stumping for votes in the August primary, in which she'll face Eric Carter, a Kansas House member from Overland Park. The winner of the Aug. 1 GOP primary will advance to the November ballot to face Democrat Bonnie Sharp and Libertarian Patrick Wilbur.
Praeger didn't mention Carter by name, and only briefly did Praeger mention the election at all. Carter, who has been a House member since 2003 and is vice chairman of the House Insurance Committee, has criticized Praeger for being an anti-business insurance commissioner. She did talk about her accomplishments during her first term:
¢ Since taking office, Praeger said, 100 new insurance companies have been licensed to do business in Kansas.
"Well over half of them are in the property-casualty area," Praeger said. "That means homeowners, other kinds of commercial lines of insurance, liability insurance, car insurance."
¢ Insurance rates paid by Kansans, she said, stack up well when compared to those paid by residents of neighboring states. Nebraskans, she said, enjoyed somewhat lower health insurance rates on average than Kansans.
"But in all other lines of insurance, our average premiums : are lower than those of surrounding states," she said.
¢ Kansans call her office's consumer division more than 20,000 times a year. This year, Praeger said, she expects that number to increase in large part due to senior citizens and their families calling with questions about changes in the federal Medicare program.
"It's not our program; it's not a state program, it's a federal program," Praeger explained. "But people are used to calling our department about insurance, and we knew we'd get a lot of calls and a lot of questions. : We made sure our Consumer Division folks were trained. We knew we'd get the calls - and we did - and we wanted to make sure we could answer people's questions."
¢ In her first term, her office has recovered about $37 million for consumers in disputed claims from insurers.
"That's important because people, when they file a claim, want to get their lives back together as quickly as possible. They want to get the roof back on the house, they want to get the car repaired, and it's important that be done in a timely fashion," she said.
¢ Under her leadership, the Insurance Department has established an anti-fraud unit to combat what she described as the second most costly white-collar crime in America, right behind tax evasion. Since May 2004, the unit's team of lawyers and former law enforcement officials has investigated more than 700 cases of suspected fraud.
"That's been an important effort in keeping rates down," she said.
¢ Praeger also touted two other programs launched since she stepped into office: "Stop, Call, Confirm," an effort aimed at fighting fake insurance sales; and Insure U., an online program (www.insureuonline.org) intended to help consumers get smart about insurance as their needs change and to educate them about ways to avoid falling victim to insurance scams.
Her advice for being sure a consumer isn't scammed by a fake insurance company?
"If it's a high-pressure sale, that's probably the No. 1 warning sign," she said, adding that legitimate insurance products don't expire at the end of the week.