Insurer review panel to meet

First discussion since it formed is unneeded, some members say

`There's no dirt to dig up'

August 14, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Six months after Gov. Parris N. Glendening named a nine-member task force to conduct a "comprehensive and thorough" examination of the state-run Injured Workers Insurance Fund, the panel has set a date to meet for the first time.

But judging by the comments of some panel members, their verdict on the agency -- which sells worker compensation insurance -- may be in.

The task force members, to be joined by four others recently appointed by Maryland's top legislative leaders, are to gather in the governor's reception room Aug. 25 to develop a strategy for their examination of the state agency.

But the late start is fueling criticism that the task force's examination of IWIF might not be as rigorous as it could be. One key member said this week that there's nothing wrong with the agency, and several other task force members agreed.

The group has been asked to present its findings to the governor by early November.

"You could worry that 2 1/2 months is really not enough time to complete a comprehensive and exhaustive study," said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland. "The bottom line is that actions speak louder than words."

Karen R. Johnson, the governor's deputy chief of staff, leads the task force. She did not return phone calls.

Several members contacted yesterday said they understood their mission as rounding rough edges.

"IWIF is a very responsible agency," said task force member Sarian S. Bouma, owner of Capitol Hill Building Maintenance. "There's no dirt to dig up, absolutely zero."

Member John W. Derr, a former legislator from Frederick County who was on the Senate Finance Committee, said the task force will take its job seriously but that it will mostly be "smoothing out the wrinkles."

Derr said a six-month delay in the start-up of a task force is not unusual. "After having been in the Senate for 16 years, it's typical that things don't even get started until August or September," he said.

"It's nice to finally be getting started. But making the deadline shouldn't be a problem."

Glendening named the task force after IWIF's board agreed to a questionable 1996 contract with the fledgling Statutory Benefits Management Corp., throwing out a dozen bids from other managed care companies.

An outside auditor later called IWIF's justification "deficient, nonexistent."

IWIF bought the company in June for $6.5 million, despite high renovation costs of its building off Loch Raven Boulevard in Towson, across from IWIF's headquarters, and a need to hire 25 employees.

The governor's order asks the members to study the agency's "management and procurement practices," composition of the 11-member board, its tax-exempt status, agent commissions and underwriting practices.

One of the newly appointed members is state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, who oversees IWIF as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He said he is prepared to defend the agency at the meeting.

"I think there are issues to be resolved about just what IWIF is and who should be regulating it," said Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat.

"I'm just saying we don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I could change the law tomorrow and put them out of business. But I don't think there is anything dirty going on here."

Bromwell, who said he is a friend of IWIF director Paul M. Rose's, said the IWIF, including its executives' salaries and bonuses, should be compared with other insurance agencies -- not other state agencies.

"If you match IWIF up with any other insurance agency, [IWIF] is doing great," he said. "It's obvious I know Paul Rose and that I like Paul Rose, but I'm not going to sit by and watch as the insurance lobbyists just wait for IWIF to get out of the game."

The other appointees joining the panel -- all Democrats -- are former state Sen. James C. Simpson of Charles County, named with Bromwell by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller; and Dels. Van T. Mitchell of Charles County and Michael E. Busch of Anne Arundel, named by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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