Texas Department of Insurance Blocked Consumer E-Mails, Then Lied About It


I’ve written time after time about the weak oversight (if any at all) of the insurance industry by the Texas Department of Insurance. I think it’s a terrible affront to the rights of Texas consumers, and costs us all a great deal of money in premiums each year.

The latest shameful episode involving the Department of Insurance has to do with a flood of e-mail complaints to the Commissioner about a rise in homeowners’ insurance premiums. As it turned out, the Department intentionally blocked those e-mails from getting to the Commissioner, then lied to the media about it. This story was detailed by the Dallas Morning News. Here are excerpts:

The Texas Department of Insurance intentionally blocked a barrage of consumer emails to Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman almost as soon as they began arriving, records show. But days later, the agency said publicly it wasn’t sure why the messages were bouncing back to their senders.

That insurance department contention proved to be “disingenuous,” Alex Winslow, executive director of the consumer group Texas Watch, said Tuesday.

Documents obtained by Texas Watch using the Texas Public Information Act show that a high-ranking insurance department official asked information technology workers to “block certain mass emails from the commissioner’s inbox” around midday on July 13.

The messages — there were eventually more than 1,200 — complained about the high price of homeowner insurance policies and asked for immediate relief.

Kitzman emailed several staff members the day she began receiving the messages saying she wanted to talk about the consumers’ suggestions.

On July 20, seven days after the email campaign began, after Texas Watch complained to the insurance department that hundreds of messages were not getting delivered, the agency issued a statement saying it had just learned some of the emails were bouncing back to their senders.

“We are investigating how this occurred and whether the large volume of emails in a short period of time may have triggered agency Internet security measures,” the statement said.

In fact, the emails were ordered blocked beginning July 13 by Kenneth Stock, who works for the agency’s chief of staff, documents show.

Texas Department of Insurance spokesman Jerry Hagins said again Tuesday that the blocking occurred because of a staff error and “a poor choice of words” and that it has been corrected. He said employees were trying to “restore functionality” to Kitzman’s email system.

Winslow said there were no documented internal discussions about an investigation into the matter or any indication that agency employees were trying to divert the consumer messages into a separate file, as was later asserted. There also was no indication in the documents that the 334 consumer messages that did reach Kitzman caused her email system to malfunction, Winslow said.

He said he remains skeptical that Kitzman wants to hear from consumers.

“Her actions time and again paint a picture of an agency head who is really not interested in public input,” Winslow said.

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