IFP: Tort Reform Improves Pennsylvania Marketplace

Friday, July 1, 2011 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Sam Marshall, President, Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, Inc.

Editor: Please tell us about the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, Inc. (IFP).

Marshall: We represent the insurance industry on regulatory, legislative and judicial matters in Pennsylvania. Right now, the main focus of our work is on revising our joint and several liability law. Currently, Pennsylvania follows a pure joint and several liability approach. We have proposed a measure that would modify Pennsylvania law to be consistent with New Jersey law, under which a defendant determined to be less than 60 percent at fault is responsible only in applicable proportion, but a defendant who is determined to be 60 percent or more at fault is subject to joint and several liability.

The reform bill has passed in the state's House and the Senate Judiciary committees. As of June 22, 2011, the bill is pending full house approval before being sent to Governor Corbett, who strongly supports this reform.

Editor: What is your perspective on regulatory reforms that may be necessary to attract business to Pennsylvania?

Marshall: Governor Corbett has made a real commitment to transforming state bureaucracies into job promoters, not job stiflers - the latter being a problem we see in a number of agencies we deal with, whether it's the insurance department, the health department or the department of labor and industry. Businesses depend on any number of agencies. Governor Corbett was dealt a difficult hand in terms of the economy and the Commonwealth budget, and he is working toward some long-needed improvements in state government.

Editor: Is there anything specific in the budget process that is of concern to IFP?

Marshall: When he ran, Governor Corbett said he wasn't going to increase taxes. June is the big budget month here, so we'll see what transpires; in both chambers, there is generally a commitment not to raise taxes or assess fees, which can only help. Along with tort reform and eliminating outdated bureaucracy, not raising taxes will make Pennsylvania a more job-friendly state.

Editor: Are you engaged in the ongoing rollout of provisions of the PPACA?

Marshall: To the extent that there are federal reforms that require changes to state law, there will be great variation in those activities. We serve as the lobbying or advocacy arm of the insurance industry in working with regulators and legislators to understand the federal climate and to determine how Pennsylvania should adapt federal law in a way that works for Pennsylvania's marketplace.

Editor: Has Governor Corbett been supportive of the IFP's efforts?

Marshall: Governor Corbett has both an intellectual and a common sense grasp of the needs of the business community. He has a very keen sense of the abilities and the limitations of government in terms of fostering competitive marketplaces.

The IFP is a bipartisan group with common goals. We've been very impressed with Governor Corbett's approach in trying to make Pennsylvania's government work for a better marketplace. You can see it in the appointments he has made - certainly in the cabinet positions that we care about and follow. For example, his insurance commissioner, Michael F. Consedine, started out as department counsel for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, so he knew the regulatory system and has been able to make an impact since day one.

Editor: What makes Pennsylvania attractive to business?

Marshall: You can look at this governor's agenda and at the house leadership in its speaker, Hon. Samuel H. Smith. You can look at the new majority leader, Hon. Mike Turzai and at the senate leadership in Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Senator Dominic F. Pileggi. There is a recognition among the legislative leaders as well as the governor that Pennsylvania needs to do more to be a marketplace where businesses want to grow, and that was lacking at the tail end of the previous administration.

When you have a commitment that starts with the governor's office, it spreads. We're also seeing interest in the senate and the house - a commitment to hold the line on taxes, to hold the line on fees and to get rid of regulations that don't advance the consumer interest - they just become bureaucracy, which is costly for both the government and employers. We now see efforts to reform the liability laws and to create an open and competitive marketplace for all types of business.

People ask if anybody still cares about consumers. We're working with the insurance department to reform the Public Adjuster Act. We seek consumer-oriented reforms that would clean up fee abuses. That's actually a bipartisan measure, and Governor Corbett is moving beyond party labels and focusing on problems that can be solved. The senate has been the leadership team longest in place and has a pretty good track record. That said, there are some tough and intractable interests within this industry.

Editor: Are the insurance industry's interests aligned with consumer interests?

Marshall: All our member companies have been in business for a long time and intend to remain in business for even longer. They can't do that without consumer confidence because insurance is a very personal business. Insurance reform measures that actually pass tend to be bipartisan because there is a lot of commonality. An insurance company represents its policyholders and has a vested interest in keeping them happy. IFP respects this dynamic in all its reform efforts. Editor's Note: On June 27, 2011, the Pennsylvania Senate passed SB 1131 to reform the Commonwealth's joint and several liability rules. Under SB 1131, joint and several liability will not apply in most cases, though a defendant held responsible for greater than 60 percent of the total liability can still be held jointly and severally liable. While SB 1131 is virtually identical to a bill already passed by the House, both chambers will have to pass the same bill, which is expected soon. Governor Corbett has indicated that he will sign the measure.