Insuring a Clash

Organizing efforts are underway on both sides of the insurance reform debate, an issue destined for serious battle in the upcoming Legislature. The newest addition to the lineup is Homeowners of Texas, formed under the leadership of insurance industry nemesis Melinda Ballard, a Dripping Springs resident and former New York PR executive. Last October, Ballard won a $32 million judgment against Farmers Insurance on a toxic-mold related issue in which she sued the company on claims of bad faith and fraud. Ballard has since turned insurance reform into a life mission, forming a national consumer group, Policy Holders of America, whose Web site (www.policyholdersofamerica.org) reflects her take-no-prisoners attitude toward the industry.

In the Texas effort, Ballard has brought in Austin consultants Jeff Heckler of the Solutions Group and Mike Blizzard of Grassroots Solutions to handle H.O.T.'s PR work and lobbying efforts. "We're going up against a lot of money, but public sentiment is definitely on our side," said Heckler, who will serve as H.O.T.'s executive director. The group's current focus is on fundraising and meeting with statewide candidates and officeholders. H.O.T. expects to officially kick off its campaign and Web site in September.

On the other side of the issue, a coalition of major insurance providers has formed the Texas Coalition for Affordable Insurance Solutions, under the PR guidance of the Austin-based consulting firm Public Strategies Inc. The group's executive director is Beamon Floyd, a registered state lobbyist who represents a number of insurance providers. TCAIS' members include Allstate, the American Insurance Association, Nationwide, State Farm Insurance Companies, and USAA. (Farmers apparently is engaging in a solo campaign with PR consultants Bill Miller and Buddy Jones of HillCo Partners.) TCAIS' mission, according to a press release announcing its formation, is to work with state-elected officials, regulators and others to "find public-policy solutions that will improve insurance affordability and accessibility in Texas." More info can be found at www.tcais.org.

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