Congresswoman Biggert: Education equips insurance consumers to make ‘sound decisions’ |

Congresswoman Biggert: Education equips insurance consumers to make ‘sound decisions’

Rarely has insurance been a hotter topic in Washington, D.C. One of the people at the center of this political whirlwind is U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill.

First elected to Congress in 1998, Biggert was cited by Glamour magazine as one of the “New Female Power Players.” Fortune magazine called her one of “The Picks of Congress’ New Litter.” This year, she began serving as chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity after Republicans took control of the U.S. House. asked Biggert about her new committee leadership role, the political climate in Washington and insurance in general. What’s your background in insurance?

Rep. Biggert: In my former life as a real estate and probate attorney, I worked on financial issues related to housing, estates, wills and financial planning. That is how I was drawn to my work on the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives, where I have spearheaded legislation on issues ranging from flood insurance to life insurance. My home state of Illinois also is home to many of the nation’s top insurance providers, so my work brings me into contact with employees, regulators and experts from a wide variety of insurance-related fields. What do consumers need to know about the role of your subcommittee and about the new Federal Insurance Office?

Rep. Biggert: In previous years, two different subcommittees had jurisdiction over insurance and federal housing programs. In the new Congress, the newly formed subcommittee has an expanded jurisdiction in both areas, including property-casualty, mortgage, terrorism, life, flood and other non-health insurance matters, as well as the new Federal Insurance Office (FIO).

Housed at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, FIO was a bipartisan idea I’ve worked on over the last two years. In May 2009, I introduced stand-alone legislation to create the FIO, which was eventually incorporated into a broader financial reform package known as the Dodd-Frank Act. While regulation of the insurance industry remains under state jurisdiction, FIO will serve as a national clearinghouse for information on the insurance industry, will monitor risks and will coordinate U.S. policies on international insurance matters. There is a lot of partisanship in Washington right now. What challenges do you expect your subcommittee to face?

Rep. Biggert: With Congress under divided control, I know that implementing a new agenda and providing effective oversight won’t be an easy task. But I am up to the challenge and ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get the job done. I am hopeful that the president’s recent compromise with Republican leaders to prevent a massive tax hike … bodes well for future cooperation between Congress and the White House. Will your subcommittee deal with health insurance reform, or does that responsibility fall elsewhere?

Rep. Biggert: In general, the Financial Services Committee deals with legislation and oversight related to property-casualty, mortgage, terrorism, life, flood and other “financial” insurance matters. Health insurance, long-term care and other medical insurance matters will continue to be handled by the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee. You’ve talked about giving consumers better access to information they need to make decisions. What might consumers do differently if they had access to more information?

Rep. Biggert: For the most part, states regulate insurance matters, including consumer protection. However, federal policies can — and should — encourage consumers to become more financially savvy about their options. Educated consumers are better equipped to make sound decisions for themselves and their families — whether that means more insurance or less.

One area that I feel people often don’t learn enough about until it is too late is life insurance. That is why I introduced a bipartisan resolution recognizing Life Insurance Awareness Month, which encourages people to learn about ways to protect their families from the financial tragedies that too often accompany the death of a loved one.

Paul McDonnold