WASHINGTON BUREAU — Regulators, interest groups and insurance policy watchers are praising Illinois Insurance Director Michael McRaith as he prepares to take up a post as the first director of the new Federal Insurance Office.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced the decision to hire McRaith Thursday.

McRaith told his staff about the appointment immediately after Geithner spoke McRaithand said he plans to stay at his present job through at least the end of May.

“In the meantime, thank you for your hard work, professionalism and your commitment to consumer protection,” McRaith said in a statement given to his staff. “As with every day I have served as director, I am excited to work with you in the coming weeks.”

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act created the FIO as an arm of the Treasury Department and gave the Treasury secretary to choose the FIO head.

Susan Voss, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), Kansas City, Mo., says McRaith will be missed at the NAIC.

“The selection of Michael McRaith as the director of the FIO is certainly good news; however, his departure from the regulatory ranks feels like a loss,” Voss says in a statement. “As a leader within the NAIC, Mike is a thoughtful advocate for consumers and understands the insurance marketplace. His regulatory experience and ability to balance national coordination of state-specific regulation will prove to be of great benefit to the FIO.”

Eli Lehrer, a vice president at the Heartland Institute, Washington, and national director of its Center on Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate, praised the administration’s appointment

of McRaith.

“Michael McRaith has been a strong presence at the NAIC and in testimony before Congress,” Lehrer says. “He is smart, competent, and up to the job before him. He has presided over one of the country’s better insurance regulatory systems and does a good job.”

Peter Ludgin, executive director of Agents for Change, Washington, a group that represents insurance agents and brokers who would like to see Congress give insurers the option of adopting a federal charter, says he is confident that McRaith “will look at the responsibilities of his new position through a wide and objective lens.”

Having a former state insurance regulator as the FIO director might mitigate against concerns about “federal bureaucrats” looking into whether they should expand their own powers, Ludgin says.

McRaith has been helpful in promoting producer license uniformity and helping insurers get products through the filing process more quickly, Ludgin says.

Howard Mills, the director of the insurance industry group at Deloitte, New York, says McRaith’s appointment is good news for the insurance industry.

“Mike understands the state regulatory system, the insurance industry and has the reputation of being an extremely competent and fair regulator,” Mills says.

Mills is a former New York state insurance commissioner.

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