By Mannix Porterfield
A modern trend that finds large insurance firms handling claims on a remote basis from out-of-state call locations doesn’t sit well and has prompted Sen. Daniel Hall to seek legislation to return jobs of adjusters to West Virginia.
Hall already has taken up his idea with Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, and Sen. Gregory Tucker, D-Nicholas, chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee.
“Insurance companies sell policies in West Virginia but in recent years have started handling claims, because of technology, in other states — Columbus, Ohio, Fredericksburg, Md., and Charlottesville, Va., and they have been pulling employees out of West Virginia,” Hall said during last week’s monthly legislative interim meetings.
Three large firms — Nationwide, State Farm and All State — once ran claims offices across the state, including Beckley, but in recent years have closed them and hauled hundreds of those jobs to other locations, he noted.
“Hardly anybody who handles insurance claims lives and works in West Virginia any more,” Hall said.
Under Hall’s proposal, which already has attracted leadership support, anyone selling insurance in the state, such as health, life, homeowners, auto and the like, would be compelled to have an in-state adjuster to deal with claims.
“This is not to say that everyone would,” he emphasized. “Sure, there are exceptions. Maybe there is a specialized line of insurance. Obviously, there are exceptions.”
No figures are in concrete at this stage, but Hall projects his measure would cover between 80 and 90 percent of all claims for damages suffered in West Virginia.
Whether the Legislature can legally compel insurance firms to do this is a question that remains to be answered.
“Obviously, there needs to be exceptions, such as the disasters like the derecho last year and you have to bring in additional adjusters to handle thousands of claims,” Hall said.
“But in day-to-day operations, if companies are going to do business in West Virginia, and West Virginians are paying the premiums, then why can’t they reinvest into the state with an additional work force?”
Hall understands why insurance carriers have centralized claims handling.
“I understand the reason why they took the adjusters out,” he said. “It’s cheaper to handle claims over the phone instead of having adjusters in the field looking at everything.”
In auto claims, he said, some firms have arrangements with body shops to photograph damaged vehicles and upload them to out-of-state locations. In homeowner claims, a local contractor can do likewise.
Which explains why many firms operate out of large telephone banks in Dallas and Tampa rather than have boots on the ground in West Virginia, he said.
Hall, himself an adjuster, personally knows at least 50 who have pulled up stakes and moved to other states to perform such tasks.
The situation affords an opportunity for many to stay in West Virginia and work out of their homes, Hall said.
“A single mom living in Pineville could have a job with an insurance company,” the senator said. “She could log on to her computer, turn the telephone on and answer calls from Pineville for eight hours. She’s got a job. Paying taxes. She’s never going to leave that job. They have big problems in the big metropolitan areas because of the turnover. People work a few months and go to another job. That single mom is not going to leave that $40,000 a year job in Pineville.”
Hall said he is eyeing two approaches — either force the insurance companies to place adjusters back in the state, or provide incentives to do so.
“I’m sure the insurance industry is not going to like it because they’re not going to like us dictating to them or telling them what to do,” he said.
“But I think we can make it to the point where they want to do that. We just need to wake them up a little bit. It’s a jobs bill. It’s a changing environment. Everybody understands that. These companies are trying to stay competitive and keep costs low. That’s fine. But we’re at the point technologically now in this modern age we can still provide really good service at a cheaper rate and still have people in West Virginia making the salaries.”
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