Insurance chief vows to reduce red tape

New state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens laid out a strongly pro-industry agenda in a meeting with legislators Tuesday.

“My objective is to make Georgia the best place for an insurance company to do business,’’ Hudgens told the House Insurance Committee. “I want to create a regulatory environment that encourages companies to come [into the state].’’

To meet that goal, Hudgens said he supports a lowering of the tax on premiums that insurance companies in Georgia pay to local governments and the state. “We’re the third-highest premium tax in the country,’’ he said.

Georgia’s high tax on policy sales is why insurance giant AFLAC moved its corporate residence from Georgia to Nebraska, Hudgens said. A stand-alone bill to lower that tax would not pass, but a decrease in the premium levy could be approved through an omnibus tax bill, he said.

The commissioner oversees several lines of insurance in the state, including health, life, and property and casualty. He said his agency would expedite decisions on insurance rates, and that he wanted to change the licensing cycle for agents.

Hudgens, who was strongly critical of the federal health reform law during his campaign last year, lauded Monday’s ruling by a federal judge in Florida declaring the law unconstitutional. But Hudgens said Georgia still must pursue creating an insurance exchange under  the law, officially known as the Affordable Care Act.

“We’re going to have to move forward just like the Florida and Virginia lawsuit never happened,’’ he said in an interview after the hearing.

Hudgens said he is interested in the exchange model being created in Mississippi, which would be run by the private market.

On other health care topics, Hudgens said that the state would likely apply for an exemption to new health reform rules requiring insurers to spend at least 80 percent of the premium dollar on medical care. He said Gov. Nathan Deal’s office was heading that effort.

Yet consumer advocate Cindy Zeldin later told Georgia Health News that those ‘’medical loss ratio’’ rules were crafted ‘’in a systematic, thoughtful and transparent process’’ by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

“Georgia consumers should be able to benefit from the value this new consumer protection provides us,’’ said Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future.

Hudgens, who took office last month, said he is still gathering information on the lawsuit by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia against his predecessor, John Oxendine, over hospital contracting.

Oxendine had said that insurers’ demands for the lowest prices from hospitals are illegal, and warned Blue Cross and other carriers to remove those provisions from contracts.

Instead, Blue Cross filed a lawsuit against Oxendine.