The decision of Bonnie Burns, Training and Policy Specialist with California Health Advocates’ (CHA), to retire from her near 17 years of dedicated service representing consumers in the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) was met with unprecedented recognition, gratitude, and honor. At the December 2006 NAIC Consumer Liaison Meeting, Commissioner and Chairman Mike Kreidler from Washington State gave Bonnie a NAIC Service Award “in recognition of outstanding dedication as a NAIC funded consumer representative.” Both NAIC and consumer representatives sponsored a reception and dinner in Bonnie’s honor at which many commissioners, NAIC staff, and others from industry and consumer groups commented on their sincere appreciation of Bonnie’s work and how challenging it will be to find someone else who can so effectively represent consumers while at the same time respecting the needs of industry and regulators.
Since 1990, Bonnie Burns has been representing consumers at the NAIC. She was first appointed to the Medicare standardization working group composed of commissioners and industry and consumer group representatives that took on the federally ordered task of standardizing Medicare Supplement policies. Bonnie’s work along with representatives from Consumers Union, AARP, and United Seniors Health Cooperative produced the 10 standardized Medigap plans that the NAIC adopted and that states were required to adopt by July 1992. Later in 1992, former Insurance Commissioner, John Garamendi and a past President of NAIC, Earl Pomeroy (now Congressman from North Dakota) teamed up to create the Consumer Participation Program at the NAIC. Bonnie was selected to serve as a consumer representative and has been selected every year since then during the annual application process. For most years, she also served on the Board of the Program.
During Bonnie’s tenure she focused primarily on Medicare related insurance issues before the Senior Issues Task Force under the NAIC B Committee on Health. Many of the reforms she worked on and helped incorporate into California law regarding Medigap guaranteed issue rights and consumer protections in long term care insurance, she also proposed to the NAIC Model Law and Regulation for those products at the NAIC, and many of those reforms have been adopted. Since the NAIC Models are intended as a guide for states, standards contained in those laws are often adopted by other states giving consumers protections or rights they might not otherwise have had.
Most recently the NAIC Senior Issues Task Force created a sub group during 2006 to “modernize” Medigap policies pursuant to language to that effect in the Conference Committee Report for Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA). Bonnie, along with many of the same people who participated in the previous Medigap work group 15 years earlier, reconvened to form this sub group. Together they made changes to the Medigap policies and reduced the number back to a total of ten standardized plans.
Bonnie was both surprised and deeply touched by the unexpected appreciation and acknowledgement of her work by NAIC staff and industry and consumer representatives alike. Although she will be greatly missed, the benefits of consumer protections and rights that she has ensured for millions of beneficiaries will be enjoyed for years to come. Thank You Bonnie!!!