Opening Statement of Gregory V. Serio, Superintendent of Insurance, at the House Government Reform Committee Hearing on the Holocaust
September 16, 2003
Good afternoon, Madam Chair (Honorable Representative Ros-Lehtinen, Presiding), Mr. Waxman and Members of the Committee. My name is Gregory Serio, Superintendent of Insurance for the state of New York and Chair of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners International Holocaust Commission Task Force. I come before you today not just as a representative of my fellow commissioners who have taken the issue of settling outstanding holocaust-era insurance claims as a most important, and time-sensitive, priority, but also as a successor of the visionaries Glenn Pomeroy and Neil Levin, who as insurance regulators in the late 1990s, recognized the injustice of justice delayed and did something about it. The matter of Holocaust survivors and their heirs being ignored, and worse, goes beyond party lines, religious lines, and geographic lines as an issue that should be and is, a national priority aided much by the cornerstones laid by commissioners Levin and Pomeroy.
In fact, if we look back to the early working groups and task forces at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to the formation of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, the six criteria spelled out in an initial memorandum of understanding provides the very basis for review of the work of ICHEIC now several years later. The initiative culminating in the creation of ICHEIC and the various international agreements framing the holocaust claims process had as its objectives:
- Establishing a process to investigate the claims of survivors
- Consulting with European government officials and insurance industry representatives
- Establishing an international commission to manage the claims process
- Establishing a just mechanism for compensation for the restitution of claims
- Exempting from state regulatory actions those insurers who participate in the process, and
- Establishing a fund to provide humanitarian relief
To measure progress against these targeted objectives, it is indisputable that much has been accomplished already. The point of analysis, then, should be to evaluate "how well" each has been achieved and whether our mutual constituencies The Holocaust survivors and their heirs worldwide have been well served. One thing is certain, though, regardless of the outcome of this analysis: the foundation, structure and essential working elements of the claims restitution programs are sound and any efforts to "reinvent" the program or process could well lead to further delay in our ultimate and just cause: compensating the Holocaust victim and returning to them what is rightly theirs.
There is no question that, for various reasons, the ICHEIC mechanism stumbled out of the gate in the early going. The enormity of the task, the uniqueness of the construct, the unknown dimension of the challenges and other internal and external forces at work all contributed to some rough going, and, in turn, some well deserved criticism directed at ICHEIC. To belabor these points, though, would be to distract from the improvements made in the internal staff structure, the addition of significant outside resources, the resolution of certain outstanding negotiations, to where ICHEIC now has agreement with all companies and, perhaps for the first time, the appreciation for the reality that evidence of insurance policies and other assets are, literally, tucked away in virtually every nook-and cranny of western and eastern Europe and that the claims process from investigation to adjudication has to be built to reflect that reality. Many of these improvements have come at the behest of the five insurance commissioners from New York, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Florida who sit as members of ICHEIC, joined with the two dozen other commissioners, from Washington State, Texas and other states where there are Holocaust survivors.
The insurance commissioners are on the front lines in managing the claims and expectations of the Holocaust survivors and their families, and so have a significant stake in making certain that the structures and processes deliver the only acceptable and prudent justice. We use these original objectives as our touchstones and concrete results as the benchmarks of the effectiveness of ICHEIC. We also apply our resources from the state level to assist the ICHEIC claims operations which, through the redeployment of personnel items from administrative and executive positions to claims processing jobs in Europe, through the retention of the Cohen Group to direct the coordination of claims investigations here and abroad, and through the commitment of resources from the states of California, New York, Washington and other states, ICHEIC is in a vastly improved position at the time.
The progress that we believe ICHEIC has made to date, together with faster attention to new issues that arise, will also be the focus of greater oversight by the NAIC and the commissioners that serve on the Holocaust task force. Since I became chairman of the Task Force in January, I and my colleagues have worked to forge more meaningful review of ICHEIC activity, including leveraging technology and the offices of the 50 state insurance commissioners to expedite the sharing of information to claimants and to ease their way through the claim process. The commissioners Koken, Kreidler, Garamendi, Gallagher and others, myself very much included are asking the tough questions and pressing for better action sooner and offering the states as conduits to the claimant community.
Given the passage of time and the delay that have been realized, maintaining strict focus on the claims settlement process and the unearthing of information from files long forgotten or previously undiscovered are paramount. Well-intentioned actions that are borne of care, concern, and frustration, though, may not be best suited if they give any sense that we are rethinking our approach. Rather, if any action is to be taken by this Congress, it should be directed at assisting these activities improving the track we are on rather than attempting to create a parallel tract. I believe Mr. Waxman may have appropriately established the scope with respect to possible remedies regulatory and administrative and diplomatic avenues should be considered along with any legislative action that may be contemplated.
Thank you for the Committees time and attention today.