05 February 2011

New insurance commissioner serves two different masters

New insurance commissioner serves two different masters : HARTFORD -- Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday said in appointing venture capitalist Thomas Leonardi as his insurance commissioner he had tapped someone who understands the need to protect consumers as well as the industry's importance to Connecticut's economy.

"I think we have the right balance," Malloy said.
Leonardi is the chairman and CEO of Avon-based Northington Partners Inc., a 56-year-old firm that advises insurance companies on mergers and acquisitions.

His appointment, which requires legislative approval, comes at a key juncture in the history of Connecticut's health care industry.

Malloy is committed to implementing federal health care reforms and has also inherited the SustiNet initiative to establish a public option in Connecticut.

Leonardi also steps into a position critics claim has been populated by insiders too compliant in granting rate increases sought by insurance companies.

Legislators are pursuing several bills they believe will increase transparency in the rate review process, from requiring commissioners to hold public hearings for rate hikes to electing rather than appointing the commissioners.

Malloy opposes making the commissioner's job an elected one. But he said he has asked Leonardi to consider by April whether any changes might be made to the process for increasing rates, bearing in mind that not every request from an insurer warrants a public hearing.

"We would tie the industry in knots," Malloy said. "(But) what do we do about some of these larger increases? And that I'm going to look to Tom for his input on."

In a statement, Leonardi noted the industry employs 65,000 in state -- down almost 25 percent over the past 20 years.

"We need to reverse this decline and bring new insurance jobs to Connecticut," Leonardi said. "Connecticut's families need affordable and reliable insurance coverage and they need good jobs. My goal... will be to do everything within my power to make sure they get both."

Eric George, a health care policy specialist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he was still learning about Leonardi but was heartened by the tone of Malloy's press conference.

"The message the governor sent -- taking about nurturing and growing jobs in the insurance industry -- was music to our ears," George said. "It's nice to see the focus put on growing the industry rather than just railing against it."

State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, is pursuing legislation that would make the insurance commissioner an elected position.

He said Leonardi might prove an excellent choice, but he still wants voters to fill the job, despite Malloy's opposition.

"For decades we've had a serious fox guarding the henhouse problem at the state Department of Insurance," Fleischmann said. "A good idea is a good idea. You don't give up on it just because a governor says they don't like it."

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