Bad whiff at IWIF

Secrecy: Quasi-public insurer seeks to eliminate open meetings and access to its records.

September 05, 1999

THE Injured Workers Insurance Fund, a quasi-public provider of worker compensation policies to businesses in Maryland, wants to shut the public out of its meetings and close access to its records.

Apparently, the glare of public attention is too much for IWIF and its well-paid bureaucrats. Officials are still smarting from heavy criticism for pursuing a $6.5 million no-bid contract and for lavishing top executives with bonuses in a year when the agency lost money.

A task force is examining IWIF's questionable management practices. Don't expect big changes, though. The agency's prime protector, Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell of Baltimore County, has made clear the status quo will prevail.

That's too bad.

IWIF could use scrutiny. This hybrid organization, created in 1914 to sell workers compensation insurance to employers, uses its government-protected status to compete against private insurance companies without paying state insurance taxes or having to answer to the state insurance commissioner.

When it suits IWIF's purposes, it seeks the protections accorded a state agency; at other times, IWIF acts like a private insurer.

Now IWIF wants to close its board meetings and block the public from seeing its records. Officials say openness gives competitors an advantage. Yet when asked to give examples, these officials are unable to do so.

It may be inconvenient for IWIF to abide by statutes requiring open meetings, but that's the penalty officials must bear for remaining under the state umbrella.

More pertinent is why an agency that sells 20 percent of the worker compensation policies in Maryland should operate without regulatory oversight. That's dangerous. IWIF lacks accountability. The task force should address this issue directly and not be distracted by IWIF's attempt to trash the state's sunshine laws.

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