Nicol looks to improve insurance if elected as state auditor
Last updated 2/18/2020 at 11:43am
Havre saw a busy weekend for politics including nearly two dozen Republican candidates speaking at the annual Hill County Reagan-Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser Sunday.
Republican candidate for state auditor Nelly Nicol of Billings was one of the speakers at the event, and she also came in to give an interview to the Havre Daily News.
Editor's note: Watch for more articles about candidates who came to Havre in upcoming editions of the Havre Daily News.
Nicol is running for the office being vacated by Republican Auditor Matt Rosendale, who is running for the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives now held by Rep. Greg Gianforte. Gianforte is campaigning for governor.
Gianforte, and his Republican primary opponents, Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, also spoke at the dinner, as did Nicol's Repuiblican primary opponent, Billings businessman Troy Downing.
The auditor's office oversees and regulates insurance and securities in Montana.
Nicol said that something the state auditor's office needs to do is focus on motivating businesses and communities to grow and come work together for the betterment of the state.
"I hope to be a champion and salesperson in bringing these companies in and finding out what they need to want to come to our state," Nicol said.
She added that she is a born and raised Montanan and understands the needs of the state. She said that this is her first time being involved in politics and wanted to get involved because she saw things in the state auditor's office that could be improved.
Nicol graduated from Montana State University-Billings with a Bachelor of Science in public relations and a minor in mass communications, she said, adding that she also attended Montana State University-Northern for a short period of time when she was studying to be a teacher.
In 2006, she started her own business in Billings, then she received a call requesting her to start a worker's compensation company in Billings under an economic development project, she said.
The goal of the business was to create good-paying jobs and lower the worker's compensation rates, she said. She added that since the business first opened their doors, the workers compensation rates have gone down 60 percent.
Nicol works as a communications manager for Victory Insurance Co., where she works on a number of different levels including executive level duties and responsibilities. She said that Victory Insurance is hoping to take its business nationwide by next year.
Her background in business has given her a unique insight into the needs for Montana and a deep understanding of the benefits of having a competitive market, especially when it comes to insurance, she said.
"We need to be more business-friendly to create more competition so that everybody has more options, more services, better services, when filing claims," she said.
She said that after about 20 years of working in the insurance market she was working with the state auditor's office and understands risk pools and things in the state that need to be done or improved, such as education and creating a healthy long-lasting insurance market.
One thing that makes Montana hard for small businesses is that the state is constantly changing policies, she said. This makes it difficult because every time there is a policy change it is expensive for businesses. It might seem to be something small, and on the state side it could be something to fix a small problem or an inefficiency, but for private businesses it creates a large enough burden it drives businesses away.
Nicol added that the state also has a large amount of inefficiencies in the health care market and prescription medication market.
"There is a lot of inefficiency in every direction that you look," she said.
She added that she has been meeting with hospital administrators and providers, as well as small local pharmacies, and has heard a wide array of concerns.
"It's hard. They're trying to run a business, but at the same time they are getting government money," she said.
She added that the number of federal and state regulations also makes things increasingly difficult for hospitals and pharmacies to properly function.
"It's really concerning and it doesn't make sense and, I think, a lot of the bureaucracy and all the government issues, the government stepping in, creates a wide, nasty web," she said. "... They are so far into the mess of it they just can't see their way out."
She said that is where she will be able to do a lot of good. She is not concerned with passing blame because the most important thing is solving the problem and having the insurance companies, hospitals and pharmacies work together to create a healthy market for consumers.
"When you can build that trust back up and you can get a good relationship and you can work on little, tiny, clear issues and have some success, then things can move forward," Nicol said.
"We need to be able to change insurance from a bad word into a discussable topic," she said. "We need to simplify it so that everybody can get a grasp of it, and we need real, honest simplification."
The job of the state auditor is to protect the consumer, she said. That means to protect them against fraud, insurance or securities and also protect the elderly. She added that although she isn't elected into office yet she is already testing one of the programs, Nelly's Tender Heart Program, which she wants to continue if she is elected to the auditor's office.
She said that in the trial run of the program she went to six schools in Billings, working with students from kindergarten to sixth grade, to make heart-shaped messages for Valentine's Day which were given to the elderly people in the community to bring awareness about fraud and scams.
The program is good for children because it gives the children a fun project to do and lets them learn the importance of giving and taking care of the elderly community, she said. But the program is also good for the elderly community, because it is a nice segue into an open conversation about scams and fraud.
"If something does happen to them, they should not be ashamed," she said.
Nicol added that the elderly are the most-targeted community members when it comes to frauds and scams and it's important they know who to talk to locally and in the state's auditors office to protect themselves and their assets.
The trial run it was something that the children and the elderly people really enjoyed and it brought them together as a community, she said.
"We have such a giving and kind culture here," Nicol said. "We are a target because of our great culture, and, I think, we just need to continue to cultivate that in order to ward off the bad players."