State lawmakers in New York are pushing for the creation of an insurance consumer advocate that would review rate applications, recommend legislation and propose ways of easing cost burdens for customers. 

The proposal, which was approved in the state Assembly earlier this week, has been years in the making. 

A commission in 1986 proposed the creation of a statewide advocate to serve within the state's insurance regulatory structure on behalf of customers in New York. But lawmakers pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst for the need of creating a statewide official to handle consumer insurance needs. 

The state Assembly on Friday is set to hold a hearing on the pandemic's impact on the insurance industry in New York. 

“To many consumers, navigating insurance is a difficult and often confusing process where the voice of their provider can outweigh their own," said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. "This legislation will create an office to serve as a watchdog on the industry and be an explicit advocate for all New Yorkers in rate cases and other matters related to insurance."

As proposed, the consumer advocate would work within the state's main insurance regulator, the state Department of Financial Services. New York already has offices like a consumer assistance unit in that department, as well as the Health Care Bureau in the state attorney general's office. 

But Cahill's proposal is meant to have a more direct impact on consumers, allowing the advocate to have a more active role in rate-setting hearings and other policies that can affect premiums. 

“This office will level the playing field by guaranteeing the insurance needs of New Yorkers are fully considered by our regulators," Cahill said. "This is another important step in standing up for consumers in our state."