If you wanted to find out whether an attorney you were thinking about hiring has ever been disciplined by the Texas Bar, you can find that information online. It is made available to the public by the Texas Bar. The same goes for doctors, nurses, and a bunch of other licensed professionals whose overseeing regulators make such information available.
Dave Lieber of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that until September 2011, the Texas Department of Insurance (“TDI”) made similar information about insurance companies and agents that violated state rules and laws available to the public. However, less than two months after Governor Rick Perry appointed Eleanor Kitzman to be the new TDI Commissioner, TDI’s practice of publicly releasing information on insurance companies and agents that violate state laws has come to an end.
Why is this information important? Well, a quick look at TDI’s September announcement showed that Great American Assurance Company was fined $195,000 for failure to file policy forms or endorsements containing property and casualty benefits and that the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association failed to process claims in a timely manner or pay claims for covered storm damages. If you were in the market for insurance, wouldn’t you like to know that Great American Assurance Company and TWIA ran into problems with the TDI? Of course you would!
TDI Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman will tell you that the information is still available. And she’s right. Well, sort of.
The latest TDI announcement, made on April 25, 2012, stated that seven insurance agents had their licenses revoked and paid fines and restitution totaling $270,950. But if you want to know the violator’s names, TDI informs you that “Copies of Commissioner’s Orders may be obtained by contacting TDI’s Public Information Office.”
Lieber noted that “[t]hat’s an extra step that most consumers searching for the latest news on violators probably won’t take. And it protects the names of offenders since they will no longer show up in Internet search results.” Lieber’s research found that only 4 people had requested the list of violators in TDI’s April 25, 2012 announcement. So what was once publicly available information – easily accessible via the world wide web – now requires a letter to TDI requesting that information.
Lieber mentioned that prior to Perry appointing her TDI Commissioner, “Kitzman ran as a Republican for South Carolina lieutenant governor in 2010, and she collected more than half her donations from the insurance industry, according to reports.”
If you don’t like the new TDI change, Lieber noted that the decision to withhold this information can be changed, but it is up to you, the citizen, to email your thoughts about the policy to PIO@tdi.state.tx.us or write to TDI Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman at P.O. Box 149104, Austin, Texas 78714-9104.