Weatherford Leaves Standard of Service Legacy

Article excerpt

During her brief administration, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Cathy Weatherford set high standards for the Oklahoma Insurance Department, emphasizing service to policy holders and consumer education.

Appointed in October 1991 by Gov. David Walters to fulfill the unexpired term of Gerald Grimes, who retired, Weatherford's 14 years of prior experience on the department staff allowed her to dive immediately into the business at hand.

"The thing that struck me was the awesome responsibility you have upon taking the job _ I had maybe never seen the weight of that on the shoulders of my predecessor," she said. "You serve on about 10 different boards and commissions of state government, and the responsibility of being a member on so many important boards of state government was something I probably didn't realize until I got here."

Weatherford was executive assistant to newly elected Gov. David Walters less than a year before he appointed her to the commissioner post. For 14 years prior to that, she worked in almost every division of the insurance department, including five years as assistant commissioner.

"Where I think my knowledge was short was probably in the financial regulatory aspect, and monitoring the solvency of insurance companies," Weatherford said. "I spent a lot of time doing my homework there and trying to become a lot more adept at financial analysis of insurance companies."

Early on, she set a goal of making Oklahoma's insurance department one of the first 25 among the 50 states to be accredited by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. "We worked so hard and so diligently, and so many hours and weekends _ it was a very, very intense and lengthy process and we became the 23rd state accredited, so I feel that's a very significant accomplishment that we made during the time I've been commissioner," she said.

The accreditation program encompasses over 20 laws, rules and regulations. An association review team evaluates the experience of the department staff and the procedures used to analyze annual statements and financial reports of insurance companies. The team also reviews procedures used in on-site audits of insurance companies.

"Commissioner Grimes put an emphasis on monitoring for solvency, so Oklahoma has a pretty good record when it comes to monitoring the strength of your insurance companies, and accreditation just put us in a much higher level than we were," Weatherford said.

Next to accreditation, Weatherford placed a three-fold emphasis on education, from consumers to regulatory staff to insurance agents' continuing education. "We have taken advantage of numerous professional seminars and educational programs through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners," she said. "We've put on ongoing seminars here in the department and have done the Quality Oklahoma program."

Beyond professional development of department staff members, however, Weatherford plowed new ground by instigating a weekly newspaper column that is published by more than 40 newspapers around the state. Column topics are drawn from most frequent questions by callers to the department and written "in lay terms _ not technical jargon."

The significance of that column really hit home when Weatherford received a copy of a letter to the editor of a small northeastern Oklahoma newspaper from a woman who had read a column dealing with mandatory health insurance coverage of mammograms for women.

"She went and found out she had breast cancer. Literally, that newspaper column saved her life," Weatherford said. "That's kind of one of the things that I look to and remember when the heat's high and my shoulders droop. I remember that's the reason I'm here, and it makes it all worthwhile."

Besides discussing what her stint as commissioner has been like, Weatherford was asked to describe the challenges that the incoming commissioner will face in January. …