Thursday, January 22, 2015

New insurance commissioner strives for a ‘robust’ Kansas market

KHI News Service

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ---- After taking his new role as Kansas insurance commissioner, Ken Selzer stressed that he will work toward providing Kansas consumers with a more robust insurance market.

Selzer said recruiting insurance companies to move to the state will give consumers more options.

“We are always going to find other ways to help the industry be more vibrant, more aggressive, more productive on behalf of consumers,” Selzer said last week while speaking to the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. “The end game is to always take care of the consumers.”

Under Kansas statute, the insurance department must educate and advocate for consumers, regulate insurance companies and license insurance agents.

Selzer, a Republican from Leawood, succeeds Republican Sandy Praeger, who broke from her party’s conservatives in supporting the federal Affordable Care Act. Praeger, of Lawrence, decided not to run for a fourth term.

Praeger expressed pride in the department’s focus on consumer protections and service during her 12 years in office. Selzer said he intends to help consumers by helping insurance companies.

“Some people think that when you advocate for consumers and advocate for companies that that’s a oxymoron, and you can’t do that at the same time,” he said. “In fact, if you can create a more robust market in this state, we can do great things for consumers.”

During his campaign for commissioner, Selzer talked about how Iowa has attracted insurance corporations by creating a recruiting plan and fostering an image within the department as one that truly understands the insurance industry.

“What we haven’t had in this state is a focus on insurance companies, support companies and financial services companies like Iowa has,” Selzer said. “Thank goodness we are starting this, because other states got involved earlier than we did, so we are going to be playing a little bit of catch-up.”

Iowa’s online health insurance marketplace, created under the ACA, faces some challenges. CoOportunity Health, a co-op started to offer insurance on Iowa’s marketplace, recently folded.

That leaves Coventry as the only company offering plans statewide on the exchange. Selzer, a certified public accountant, has worked in the reinsurance business for more than three decades.

After winning the November election, Selzer retired from his job as executive managing director of Aon Benfield, a global insurance and consulting firm. Before Aon Benfield, Selzer worked at Employers Reinsurance Corporation in Overland Park.

He has a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern California.

A day after being sworn into office, Selzer put together an informal working group that included insurance company representatives, educators, Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Longbine and House Insurance Committee Chairman Rep. Scott Schwab, along with other government officials.

The group will collaborate to recruit insurance companies to Kansas and look at how other states successfully bring companies to their states. Longbine, a Republican from Emporia, said the working group of about 20 people identified a need for education and training to create a qualified workforce.

“We also determined that we need a stable regulatory environment, and then additional capital,” he said.

Moving forward, Longbine said the working group could split into subgroups to address more specific topics.

Selzer said the group members “are going to work hard to find ways to bring more companies to do business here” over the next 18 months to two years. He outlined that broad vision while speaking to House and Senate committees during the first week of the 2015 legislative session.

During the Senate committee meeting, Sen. Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, asked if the state will receive additional information about the insurance marketplace. Currently, the federal government provides information about enrollees’ type of plan, age and gender, but Denning would like to see more about insurance plan costs.

“It is a federal law with federal mandates and they will release to us what they want to release, and we can’t garner as much as we can out of that,” said Selzer, noting that Congress could change some aspects of the ACA that might affect the insurance marketplaces.

Sen. Tom Hawk, a Democrat from Manhattan, said he hopes Selzer will be open-minded about the option of operating a state-run ACA exchange as the climate changes in Congress.

“I don’t think the Legislature will consider it if the insurance commissioner does not report back that they think it’s a good idea,” Hawk said. “There’s no guarantee even if this new commissioner thinks it’s a good idea that the Legislature will agree.”