January 03, 2019

Transition Season: Insurance Commissioners Begin a Year of Change

Last November’s election saw four newly elected insurance commissioners and 20 new governors (seven of which represent a shift from Republican to Democratic party affiliation). Meanwhile, influential insurance commissioners announced retirements as 2018 ended. Amid these high-profile changes, the insurance industry will be closely monitoring these new officials to determine how they may alter the direction of regulatory policy.

While you were wrapping and wassailing over the holidays, several gubernatorial transitions identified and announced their picks for insurance commissioner, so the picture is starting to come into focus. Nevertheless, there are still a number of significant appointments to come, many of which require state legislative approvals.

The below is not a comprehensive survey of commissioner appointments, but it does provide a round up of significant activity as the year begins.

Some of the “Known Knowns”

California

For a blue state, Commissioner-elect Ricardo Lara won a close race against a well-funded former commissioner. Expectations are that the Golden State will continue to play an activist role in shaping regulatory policy. Commissioner-elect Lara has noted that his priority is “protecting consumers, patients, hard-working families, seniors, and the most vulnerable communities in [California].” Lara will be sworn in as the eighth elected Insurance Commissioner of California on January 7, 2019.

Georgia

Former Commissioner Hudgens’ Chief of Staff Jim Beck narrowly defeated insurance industry veteran Janice Laws. Beck has already prioritized fighting insurance fraud against seniors and bringing stability to auto insurance rates during his time as Commissioner. He will be sworn in on January 14.

Kansas

State Senator Vicki Schmidt gets sworn in as Insurance Commissioner on January 14. A pharmacist by training, her campaign focused on health care issues. As a State Senator, she served as Chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. With substantial experience as a pharmacist, coupled with her legislative leadership background, Commissioner-elect Schmidt will bring a unique perspective and expertise to the NAIC.

Oklahoma

Newly elected Commissioner Glen Mulready will be sworn in January 14. Mulready has chaired Oklahoma’s House Insurance Committee and was active at the National Conference of Insurance Legislators. He also has industry experience as a producer, so he hits the ground running. Mulready has already announced Tyler Laughlin, a senior staffer with former Commissioner Doak, as his Chief of Staff, helping to ensure continuity in the transition.

Tennessee

Governor-elect Bill Lee put speculation to rest by re-appointing influential and respected Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. Commissioner transitions are creating several leadership openings in the NAIC committee structure. Expectations are that Commissioner McPeak will be asked to serve in a significant national policymaking role in 2019. 

Appointed Awaiting Confirmation

Colorado

Michael Conway had been serving as Interim Commissioner of the Division of Insurance. Conway had previously served as the deputy commissioner of insurance and as an assistant attorney general in the office’s insurance unit. Democrat Governor-elect Jared Polis, to be sworn in January 8, announced his full-blown appointment of Conway to the position, which requires confirmation from the Democratic-majority state Senate.

Michigan

Apparently, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer not only wants to “fix the damn roads,” but also fill the darn cabinet. She was sworn in January 1 with a number of significant appointments in place, including her Director of the Department of Insurance and Financial Services, Anita Fox. Fox has over 30 years of experience in the legal field — managing complex litigation in federal and state courts. Stakeholders should be on the lookout for some hypotheticals; Fox has also taught Insurance Law at Michigan State University College of Law. Fox does need confirmation from a Republican-controlled Senate. 

Wisconsin

Governor-elect Tony Evers will be sworn in on January 7 and has already announced Mark Afable as appointed Insurance Commissioner, replacing Ted Nickel. Afable has been with American Family Insurance since 1994, most recently serving as the Chief Legal Officer. He has voiced desire to tackle the availability and affordability of health insurance once his term begins. Afable’s position is subject to approval by the state’s Republican-controlled Senate. Note that legislative battles between the Governor-elect and legislature started even before inauguration.    

Anticipated Announcements

Connecticut

Democrat Ned Lamont won the race for Governor and will be sworn in on January 9, 2019. Paul Lombardo is currently Acting Commissioner since Katie Wade stepped down in December. The next appointee will require confirmation from the Democratic-controlled state senate.

Illinois

Governor-elect JB Pritzker takes office January 14.  His predecessor’s Director of Insurance, Jennifer Hammer, resigned in December, leaving her chief of staff serving as Acting Director. Pritzker’s appointee will face Senate confirmation, but from a supermajority of his own Democratic party.

Nevada

Nevada operates under a unique process, whereby the Insurance Commissioner is appointed by the Director of the Department of Business and Industry, who is appointed by the Governor. Governor-elect Steve Sisolak will be sworn in on January 7 and is still gradually announcing his appointments. This is the first time Nevada has seen a Democratic Governor in decades.

 

Many more decisions and developments are to come, but the year of significant transition in the state regulatory ranks is certainly underway.

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