(Updated) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy picked an insurance industry executive to head the regulatory agency in charge of making sure insurance consumers are being treated fairly.
Malloy nominated Thomas B. Leonardi Friday to head the Insurance Department.
Leonardi, who lives in New York, is currently the CEO of Northington Partners, Inc., a specialty insurance firm, where he advised and invested in insurance companies.
At a press conference following the announcement, Malloy downplayed Leonardi’s role as an insurance industry insider, and said his experience offered a unique perspective into the industry.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Malloy said when asked if Leonardi may be perceived as too much of an industry insider. “I think that he’s got a unique perspective that is cognizant of need that this industry has a reasonable rate of return but cognizant also that a portion of sustaining a reasonable rate of return is appropriate protection of consumers.”
With the appointment, Malloy said felt he needed to strike the right balance between consumer protection and ensuring the industry remains solvent and is able to pay its claims appropriately.
The primary mission of the department is to protect the consumer but rapid changes in the field make this a significant time for insurance regulation, Leonardi said.
“The collapse of the financial market in 2008, the uncertainty surrounding the health care act, and the passage of the Dodd Frank Bill and its creation of federal insurance office, all make for a challenging time climate for insurance regulators across the country,” he said.
The insurance industry continues to be an important part of Connecticut’s economy but it’s been in decline in recent years, he said. Though over 65,000 residents still work in the field, Leonardi said insurance-related jobs have dropped almost 25 percent in the last 20 years.
He said it’s important to reverse that trend by strengthening the industry and bring new insurance jobs to the state. That goal, he said, in no way conflicts with the agency’s mission to protect the consumer.
After the announcement many around the Capitol said they were unfamiliar with Leonardi. Malloy said Leonardi was recommended to him by someone as a potential contender for the job, though he couldn’t remember off-hand who.
Consumer advocate Beverly Brakeman said she was also unfamiliar with Malloy’s nominee.
“I just hope he is more consumer friendly than the last commissioner,” she remarked, referring to 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.
Brakeman said she will likely attend Leonardi’s hearing, which will be conducted by a legislature’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee. The Government Administration and Elections Committee is also weighing a bill that would make the insurance commissioner an elected position rather than an appointment.
Malloy has said he does not support that bill but Brakeman said the idea deserves consideration.
“It’s a controversial idea that’s been floating around Connecticut for a while,” she said, adding that other states have adopted similar measures.
Voters would likely chose to elect someone with less of an insurance industry background, Brakeman opined.
Leonardi told reporters he would be resigning from the firm and selling off his shares in the company, which amount to 40 percent. While he won’t be selling his home in Long Lake, New York, which has been appraised at over $1.8 million, according to Hamilton County’s website, he and his wife will be returning to Connecticut, he said. He had previously lived in the state from 1975 to 2005, he said.
Malloy said he would be looking for input from his new commissioner on another insurance related bill proposed this session that would require public hearings before the department approved rate increases for insurance providers.