Posted on 09 Feb 11
In one of his most carefully watched appointments, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy named an industry insider to head up the Connecticut Insurance Department.
Malloy introduced Thomas B. Leonardi as the next state insurance commissioner during a media conference Friday afternoon. Leonardi, 56, is chairman and CEO of Avon-based Northington Partners, Inc., a venture-capital and investment-banking firm that specializes in insurance. Leonardi founded the firm in 1989. He will leave the position and sell his stock in the company to take the commissioner position, which pays $143,000 annually.
Leonardi takes on the colossal task of regulating, and fostering growth of, multi-billion-dollar companies that employ tens of thousands of people in Connecticut while, at the same time, advocating for their customers. These conflicting priorities clash, usually when insurers ask for higher rates, which escalated to a protest at an insurance hearing last fall. At worst, the department has been criticized by some consumer advocates for "rubber-stamping" health insurance rate hikes.
Malloy, when asked whether Leonardi was too much of an insurance industry insider, said, "I don't think that's the case."
Malloy stressed the importance of growing the insurance industry in Connecticut to reverse a decades-long trend of dwindling jobs at major health, life and property-casualty employers in the state. However, Malloy said Leonardi will strike the balance between allowing insurers a reasonable rate of return while looking out for consumers.
"I think we found someone who strikes just the right balance," Malloy said.
Leonardi said the job "requires a balanced approach which includes efficient and timely responses to consumer complaints, making sure that products are clearly marketed and suitable for those people to whom they are sold, and, importantly, making sure that insurers in Connecticut are financially sound and able to pay policyholders' claims as they come due."
"There are more than 65,000 people who work in the insurance industry in Connecticut, and that number is down 25 percent over the past 20 years," Leonardi said. "The insurance industry has been such a key part of the fabric of our economy and our state for over 150 years. We need to reverse this decline and bring new insurance jobs to Connecticut. Connecticut's families need affordable and reliable insurance coverage and they need good jobs. My goal as insurance commissioner will be to do everything within my power to make sure they get both."