Lou Savage, Oregon’s interim insurance commissioner for the past seven months, has been appointed to the position permanently and appears to be following in his predecessors’ footsteps, with a focus on health insurance reform.
Savage replaces Teresa Miller, who left in November 2011 to work for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where she handles rules implementing elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Miller replaced Joel Ario, also a former Pennsylvania insurance commissioner and Harvard law graduate, who went on to the HHS to oversee health insurance Exchange implementation, but who has since left.
Savage was chosen because of his expertise on the state level as well as with health care reform, according to a press release issued by the state overseer, the Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS).
The appointment came after an extensive search, according to DCBS Director Patrick Allen, who praised Savage first and foremost for his “leadership in implementing federal health care reform,” as well as in performing public reviews of health insurance rate requests, and in tackling a myriad of other insurance issues.
“Health insurance regulation is undergoing significant changes, and I am now deeply involved in helping shape the health care plans that will be available to Oregon consumers in 2014, as well as other complex reform issues we must tackle under tight deadlines,” Savage stated. “I am passionate about seeing these changes through for Oregonians.”
Savage directed DCBS legislative activities before being tapped to serve as interim insurance commissioner.
An attorney, Savage has represented both consumers and businesses on insurance related issues in the nonprofit and private sectors. He worked for Multnomah County Legal Aid Services for more than 16 years, including eight years as executive director. He was also state director of Congressman (now Senator) Ron Wyden’s state congressional office. He came to DCBS from private practice in 2003 and served as senior policy advisor for more than eight years.
HHS has released a set of guidlines aimed at states that are setting up their own exchanges. Oregon has its own health insurance exchange already, led by one Howard “Rocky” King. The Oregon Health Insurance Exchange is governed by a nine-member board of directors, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Oregon Senate and state citizens can find out if they are eligible for financial assistance, starting in October 2013. The Senate confirmed the board members in September 2011.
Provisions in the 2010-enacted PPACA encourage states to set up “health insurance exchanges,” or Web-based insurance supermarkets, that individuals and small businesses can use to buy health coverage.
PPACA opponents fought the act in Congress and in the courts. A decision is expected from the Supreme Court this month.
If the act takes effect as written and works as drafters expect, a state could choose between setting up an exchange, participating in a multi-state exchange consortium, or letting the federal government provide exchange services, or FFE services, for its residents.
A number of other states have interim insurance commissioners or are likely to have new insurance commissioners due to retirement, elections or a change in governing party.