Health Insurance and NC's Insurance Commissioner

Please share your thoughts about the article below. It appeared in the Elizabeth City newspaper this week.

One of the areas of contrast between me and my Republican opponent is that I will make the Insurance Commissioner and the Department of Insurance even more visible and active in the fight for more affordable, more accessible health insurance in NC.

And, remember: Please continue to spread the word about how vital this race is ... This being the first time in practically a quarter-century where there will be a new NC Insurance Commissioner, we can't afford for the voter to make the wrong choice. The wrong choice not only will harm efforts on health care but hurt other responsibilities of the Insurance Commissioner.

For more information, go to my website.


Messed up link

Hi James,

The link you added to the end of the teaser is broken; it appears to be directed at /<a href=" or something like that.


The link to is also broken (null in this case).

This has been your BlueNC hyperlink janitor!

recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Zero tolerance and uninsured motorists

That does look like a good article.

On the subject of auto insurance, he said the state needs to strengthen penalties for uninsured motorists.

"There should be zero tolerance for people operating vehicles on our highways without insurance," he said.

This quote gives me pause.

First, just as a rhetorical point, can we please drop the term "zero tolerance" from our political vocabularies, at least in any context that isn't negative? Zero tolerance has gotten us overcrowded prison systems that bust the budgets of state governments, and teeth-gnashing headlines like kindergarteners being expelled for "sexual harassment" for kissing a classmate, and this:

A man who stopped a woman from harming herself with a handgun was sentenced to 12 months in prison this week by a federal judge. Bryant K. Ervin ended up with prison time not because he stopped a potential suicide, but because he was a convicted felon and was barred from possessing a firearm.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Weede said the government was seeking jail time because Ervin kept the weapon for more than a week afterward, not because of the way he came to possess the silver handgun.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for a prison term between two and three years. Weede recommended a sentence of 15 months, or about half the guideline range, because of the circumstances. Ervin's defense attorney, Kier Bradford-Grey, asked District Judge Sue L. Robinson to give him a sentence of time served, or about seven months....

U.S. Attorney Colm F. Connolly said the message from this case is, "Felons and guns don't mix and we have a zero tolerance level for convicted felons possessing weapons."


"Zero tolerance" is a phrase that gives authorities and administrators a license not to think. That is ass-backwards because judgment is precisely the trait we should be cultivating in those who wield authority. Or think of it this way: if your job can be replaced with a very simple computer program, one day it will be.

I propose an alternative approach: let's understand the reasons why people drive uninsured. Tougher penalties for their own sake are only warranted if uninsured driving is typically done for hooliganistic or antisocial reasons ("I'm gonna stick it to the driving without insurance!").

I can think of some possible reasons:

  1. Uninsured motorists are undocumented aliens, and applying for insurance runs them through a vetting process that increases their chances of being detected (or, more specifically, whether it actually does, the undocumented people believe this to be the case);or
  2. Uninsured motorists cannot afford even minimal coverage for their vehicle; or
  3. Both.

If 1) is a concern, then this position is probably a good one to take to win the votes of the anti-brown people folks, but I would suggest merely as a matter of tactics that this dog whistle might be too subtle to be heard by your audience.

Fortunately, I've met you, so I don't believe you're trying to pander to xenophobes.

As an aside, I do wonder why minimal motor vehicle insurance has to be carried in anyone's name. Isn't it the car, and what it might do to other people and property, that is the target of this public policy? If that's the case, why don't we permit minimal insurance to be purchased strictly on a time-limited VIN basis? The insurance company issues an insurance card (and keeps a record) for 6 months for a particular VIN. I reckon a fair number of uninsured motorists don't actually own vehicles, but drive on an ad hoc basis autos owned by others, possibly by small business that for whatever reason aren't insuring the vehicles themselves (is that legal? If not, is my guess right? What are we doing to toughen enforcement against the business that are skimping on auto insurance for their "fleets"?).

I guess the reason it doesn't work this way is that the insurance company doesn't want to pay a claim if some wackjob is driving the car. But how much does this really matter for the minimal coverage required by state law? They're not getting out of very much, and in any case, if one takes the insurance companies' side on this, then the insurance companies themselves also have an incentive to avoid insuring bad risks. This is the usual adverse selection problem, which government-mandated insurance, whether with health care or motor vehicles, is trying to solve.

So what about the cost factor? How many uninsured motorists are there in North Carolina? How much, ballpark, would it cost to insure them all at the minimal level required by law? We must be assuming either that 1) the class of people who drive uninsured have, collectively, this amount of liquidity; 2) the taxpayers of North Carolina can afford to underwrite this cost (don't I already do this by paying for underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage on my own non-minimal auto policy?); or 3) it's acceptable to spread the risk (which the actuaries can surely quantify) created by these uninsured motorists among the people of North Carolina.

I suppose it's possible that by "zero tolerance" you're proposing something along the lines of stiffer non-custodial penalties, like stiffer fines. But if my theory about uninsured motorists being dirt poor (or illiquid) is right, how well will this really work out? These folks will either default on their debts to the government, which means your lock them up—and we're back to the arguments I forwarded against incarceration— or you garnish their wages, which, again, if I'm right about who these people are—just spreads the misery as you push the documented people onto social services and the undocumented folks farther underground.

Bottom line: I'd like to hear less about "zero tolerance", and more about actual policy which reflects an intellectual command of the problem space.

Thanks for your patience with this lengthy query, and for doing what you can to improve my poor understanding of this subject.

recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Uninsured driving vs. public transportation

No problem, James. Hopefully my on-topic comments to Mr. Goodwin counteracted my annoying tendencies rather than compounding them. :)

Your reply kept me from adding a paragraph that I forgot, but perhaps it's just as well, since it's an isolable sub-topic.

One alternative that occurred to me while riding DATA buses as my transmission was being rebuilt, is that people who can't afford auto insurance could be issued vouchers for public transportation. That of course, is no sort of substitute for rural folks—but if the problem is mostly caused by undocumented immigrants, aren't they overwhelmingly in urban areas anyway? The other problem is that public transportation even in urban areas often won't get these people where they need to go; they will likely be third-shift workers who need to get to their jobs or homes when the buses don't run. Still, it may mitigate the problem some, and could be an interesting method for funding public transit through the back door, as it were.

recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Thank you both for cleaning up the link error(s)

Link errors ... That's what I get for blogging with little rest in many days! For the last 8 weeks and moreso over the next 7 weeks the campaign - plus work and family - keep me going 18-20 hours a day. Fortunately, the help of you two with the original post keeps what I believe is a good post and a helpful news article available for the public to read.

Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Branden

Branden, you have certainly put a lot of thought into your comments. Though I am pressed for time to respond in much detail, do know that by State law every person with a NC drivers license is required to have financial responsibility and be able to certify such. In other words, it is already State law that every NC driver with a NC drivers license is required to have automobile liability insurance. Though I agree that there may be a much better term than "zero tolerance", to say otherwise is to thumb one's nose at or flout existing law.

As much evidence has shown in countless venues, people tend to respond to financial incentives or disincentives, so having a higher penalty for intentional uninsured drivers is necessary to cure intentional behavior.

As NC reviews and reforms its system of setting automobile insurance rates in 2009 forward, there must always be a careful eye to make sure that the percentage of uninsured drivers doesn't rise. If that percentage does rise, then it puts individuals, families, businesses, local governments, insurers, and hospitals at risk as we all are then paying for the mistakes of others.

There is so much more involved with the issue you've raised, and your dedicated attention to my original post deserves more of a reply from me, but I must head on to my next scheduled meeting for the day before traversing the State over the weekend.

Again, thank you for your response, Branden. It was a pleasure to meet you at James's home several months ago when we had the BlueNC BBQ Bash!