The Oregon Legislature will consider an important consumer protection bill this session. Senate Bill 719 provides Oregon consumers the necessary right to hold insurance companies accountable for unreasonable and unfair denial of claims.
Under current state law, insurance companies are regulated by the Oregon Insurance Division, which is a division within the Department of Consumer and Business Services that is funded by the very insurance companies it’s in charge of monitoring and disciplining. While the department does a good job with limited resources, it was not and cannot penalize insurance companies for all unfair practices. As reported in the Oregonian, this inherent conflict of interest has many pushing for Senate Bill 719, which would place insurance companies under the auspices of Oregon’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. This bill would not only give consumers much needed private remedies but would also give the Attorney General power to hold the worst offenders accountable.
In a legislative hearing last week, the bill’s author, Representative Brian Clem, shared the story of his mother-in-law, Azusa Suzuki, who joined him at the hearing, to help illustrate the need for reform.
Suzuki suffered injuries six years ago and was denied her supplemental insurance benefits through Regence. The reason for the denial was that according to the company records, Ms. Suzuki was dead. What seemed like a simple miscommunication and a very correctable mistake turned far more serious when Regence, after realizing the error, denied the benefits anyway and cancelled her coverage. The family went to the Oregon Insurance Division for answers and the agency said they couldn’t do anything because Oregon law contained no provision on false death claims (You can watch a full video of Representative Clem’s and Azusa Suzuki’s testimony with analysis from Blue Oregon here).
Suzuki’s situation might seem exceptional, but stories like hers of having benefits denied over ridiculous technicalities or blatant mistakes occur every day. The passage of Senate Bill 719 would ensure that insurance companies change their ways and be held accountable if they don’t.
Click here for the official text of Senate Bill 719
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