Jon Godfread has spent the past three years working to raise the image and awareness of the North Dakota Insurance Commissioner’s Office. He said that, in a way, that’s what he’ll be doing as he stumps for re-election in the coming year.
“No matter what kind of competition I have, I am going to use this as an opportunity to highlight what we’re doing at the office and talk more about our awareness,” Godfread told the Herald on Thursday, Oct. 17. “If this brings more attention to the insurance department, I think that’s a good thing. We have 42 trained professionals there who do great work every day. If we can tell their story through this (election) process, it benefits them and it benefits the consumers to let them know that there are resources out there for them. Campaigns are long and campaigns can be tough and hard, but I’m looking forward to this one as (an opportunity) ... to talk about the good things that we’re doing.”
Godfread, a Republican, announced his campaign earlier this week at GOP headquarters in Bismarck, but spent part of the day Thursday visiting with media in his hometown of Grand Forks. He was first elected insurance commissioner in 2016.
He is a 2000 graduate of Red River High School who earned postgraduate degrees at UND. In between, he attended the University of Northern Iowa.
In a prepared release distributed to the media, Godfread provided bullet points of what he considers highlights of his first term, including:
● Trimming the budget by 7.5% to use department funds with efficiency and impact, including eliminating duplicative functions.
● Establishing a reinsurance program as approved by the Legislature to reduce premiums for the more than 42,000 North Dakotans who purchase their own health insurance.
● Enacting an Autism Bulletin to safeguard insurance coverage and enhanced treatment options for children and families with autism. For that, Godfread was named Autism Speaks Executive Champion of the Year in 2018.
● Enhancing partnerships with North Dakota’s state’s attorneys to fight insurance fraud.
● Taking measures to ensure more insurance premium taxes paid for fire protection go back to local fire departments.
On the latter, Godfread is especially proud of the work done by his department during the most recent session of the state Legislature. The department, he said, was instrumental in bringing legislation to provide more funds for local fire departments.
It stems from a law enacted more than a century ago, mandating that a portion of a homeowner’s insurance goes into a distribution fund for fire districts, helping pay for firefighting services. From 1889 to 1980, 100% of those dollars went to the districts, but in 1980, the Legislature opted to change the payout from 100 percent to a set appropriation. Whatever dollars were left over automatically went into the state’s general fund.
“I was asking the question since I came in, saying this doesn’t make sense to me,” Godfread said. “It’s my opinion we should be giving all that money back. … We brought the idea to the Legislature and they, to their credit, jumped on board with giving 100% of estimated collection back to the fire departments. We would like that to be a continuing appropriation, one in and one out.”
As reported this week by Forum News Service, Godfread last year publicly supported Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem's entrance into a Texas lawsuit that sought to overturn the Affordable Care Act, saying the law hurt small-business owners, farmers and ranchers in North Dakota. The lawsuit is still in the federal court system.
Also, Godfread fined Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota $125,000 in July after finding the organization had denied certain claims relating to mental health and substance abuse.
Godfread told the Herald that his office also is working to reduce duplicated services with other state agencies, which has helped trim his office’s budget. That, he said, has enabled the office to move resources back into consumer assistance.
“We’re going to look at adding another consumer assistance complaint investigator,” he said. “Also, we’ve been able to add another fraud investigator. So we now have three law enforcement officers in our office whose job is every day to go out and investigate insurance fraud.”
Godfread also has worked with state’s attorney offices throughout North Dakota to better prosecute insurance fraud while reducing the workload of those county attorneys.
“We reached out to a number of counties and said … would you be willing to let our attorney prosecute these fraud cases on your behalf? It takes the workload off of them and lets our experts get in the courtroom,” he said. “Continuing to expand that is a big thing because insurance fraud costs every North Dakotan, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an increase of $900 per year per family due to increased premiums. It’s not a victimless crime.”