One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Janelle Cousino is executive director of the Maryland Citizen Action Coalition, a 10-year-old consumer advocacy group with 67,000 members statewide. It is affiliated with the national organization Citizen Action.
Q. You're known for your efforts in the legislature concerning automobile and health insurance. What are your goals in the upcoming legislative session?
A. We want to make the insurance relationship with consumers fairer. There's a perception, and I think a valid one, that insurance companies pretty much get their way in Annapolis . . . [our goals] would be how regulation can in fact involve and represent consumer viewpoints and this particularly involves the consumer advocate. We were able to get a consumer education and advocacy law passed . . . but it's like 10 percent of what we really had hoped for, which would have included having a consumer advocate who could in fact put on a case to counter what the companies have put on, including being able to call witnesses and cross examine the companies and actually do an independent review. The companies have argued that this is a second regulatory hoop that they have to jump through. We don't think so; we believe in fact it's just making the regulatory process fairer because the insurance commissioner can't be judge, jury and prosecutor all at the same time. But having two viewpoints to chose among -- or even deciding somewhere in between the two viewpoints -- makes a fairer process. This is similar to how utilities are managed and . . . we think it makes sense for insurance as well. Maryland has been quite lenient on the insurance industry. We have exempted them from more anti-trust requirements than other states. There is no reason for this exemption and it should be repealed. All other businesses are subject to this basic consumer protection law. Historical data collection activities are the only joint activity that should be allowed by the insurance companies.