Two lawmakers are calling on their colleagues to change the way the state’s insurance industry is regulated by creating greater distance between the insurers and the regulator appointed to oversee them.
A new bill filed by state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, would make the state’s insurance commissioner a publicly elected official, rather than an executive appointment.
Sick of watching the Insurance Commissioner approve one premium increase after another inspired Meyer to submit the legislation.
“I started making an investigation of the commissioners and what I discovered is they’ve all come from the insurance industry,” he said Monday. “I reached a conclusion that they were protecting the insurance industry and not protecting we consumers. So on that basis I looked at the experience of some other states that have had elected commissioners and decided that we should move in that direction here in Connecticut.”
The state’s last insurance commissioner, Thomas R. Sullivan, resigned in November under pressure from lawmakers and health care advocates about a week after he approved a 47 percent rate hike for Anthem without a public hearing.
Meyer has also proposed a separate bill, which would require public hearing for premium increases. The bill also requires the Attorney General and the Health Care Advocate be included as parties to the hearing.
State Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, cited that increase in a prepared statement about his legislation making the Insurance Commissioner an elected position.
“We saw our most recent Commissioner approve a 47 percent increase for an Anthem plan,” he said. “Right now the commissioner does not have to answer to anyone-not to the consumers and small business owners who are forced to pay these outrageous premiums or go without health insurance. We would see a lot more transparency and sensible decision making if, every four years, the commissioner was held accountable by Connecticut’s citizens.”
Fleischmann’s bill would put the position in a four-year election cycle, similar to the state’s constitutional officers. If adopted, the first insurance commissioner election would take place in 2014.
While Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to appoint a new insurance commissioner, Meyer said that enduring a campaign cycle and answering to voters may refocus the priorities of the insurance department.
“If the commissioner has to run for election and have the accountability a campaign brings, I think we’re likely to have a commissioner who’s going to put the consumer ahead of industry protection,” he said.
The Insurance Department has a history of approving rate increases, according to a 2009 Office of Legislative Research report.
Following Sullivan’s resignation, the position has been filled by acting commissioner Barbara C. Spear. Soon after taking over, Spear garnered praise from then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for “tossing the rubber stamp” of approval out the door when she denied Anthem another rate increase in December.
While Meyer’s bill has the support of Fleischmann in the House, he said that given the state’s history as the insurance capital of the world he was unsure of how the measure would be received by other lawmakers.
“I asked several colleagues if they would like to be co-sponsors and their eyes rolled so I don’t know, it’s a little early in the session to know,” he said. “I think the general assembly and the governors of Connecticut for years have tried to protect this industry. I think it’s time to have a different direction and that’s why I’m offering an alternative.”
Currently Connecticut is with a majority of the states which appoint their Insurance Commissioner. Only 11 states elect their Insurance Commissioner’s. One of those state’s is Washington where a 1999 study called on policymakers to change its system from an elected one to an appointed one. The study by a Washington think-tank found politicians were using the office as a political stepping stone and a substantial number of insurers in the state were leaving.