With updates, quotes from Terri Vaughan and other reaction:
Former Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson has been named CEO of the National Association of Insurance (NAIC), the organization announced today in a news release.
The move was widely anticipated and welcomed by many in the industry. Nelson has reportedly already met with top lobbyists and Washington insurance officials like the Federal Insurance Office, with whom he will be speaking a lot, to smooth the way, according to one source. Another says this is not the case.
“I am honored to serve as CEO during such an important and exciting time in the regulatory community,” Nelson stated. “After years in government, this is a homecoming for me. It is also an opportunity to advance the work of the NAIC to safeguard the insurance sector through the promotion of our outstanding regulatory framework. In my new role, I look forward to continuing our relationship with the Federal Insurance Office as well as working with state regulators on matters affecting the economy and consumers.”
Other candidates were said to include Michael Leavitt, Republican former governor of Utah and former head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which implements the health care reform act, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.
Nelson also has another day job, as it turns out. National communications and public affairs firm Agenda announced just yesterday the addition of Nelson as a senior policy expert to the firm and the formation of an advisory board to support its public affairs platform and provide clients with high-level policy and political guidance, with Nelson and former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer hired as key advocates.
The NAIC said it does not see an issue with Nelson doing both jobs, filling both roles. Nelson will have clients on issues such as defense, sequestration and veterans issues. It is unclear how he will advise on any insurance, market finance, health or international trade issues if they arise among his clients. Two of the areas in which Agenda serves clients are healthcare field and with international and government issues, which clearly are in the NAIC’s arena.
Agenda wants him for roughly the same reasons he stood out as a leader to the NAIC. “We are excited and privileged to have Sen. Nelson and Governor Schafer join our team,” stated Agenda partner Craig Pattee. “These guys reflect our business strategy. They know how to work across the aisle to get things done and understand the nexus between modern grassroots advocacy, governors and states and the federal government,” added Pattee.
“Senator Nelson’s impressive credentials and deep knowledge of state insurance regulation are simply unmatched,” stated Jim Donelon, NAIC President and Louisiana’s insurance commissioner. “His rare and valuable combination of experience in insurance and government will be a tremendous asset to our organization. In addition to skillfully navigating the political arena, the stalwart leadership and collaborative nature that marked his time in public service will be integral to elevating our efforts on Capitol Hill. Moreover, as a former regulator and executive vice president of the NAIC, Sen. Nelson has a keen understanding of the insurance marketplace, which will make him an effective advocate for the preservation of our state-based system of regulation.”
“NAIC distinguished itself today by appointing one of the most respected figures in government as its new chief executive officer. Both from a professional and personal standpoint, I am delighted that Ben Nelson will rejoin the insurance community as head of NAIC,” stated fellow former governor Dirk Kempthorne, president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI).
The NAIC announced in August that then-NAIC CEO Dr. Therese M. (Terri) Vaughan would be retiring from the NAIC, something she had been contemplating for at least a year – according to sources, she was prevailed upon to stay on a year longer.
Many in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, interviewed over the past weeks when Nelson’s name was floated around the Beltway have endorsed the choice already. People have called Nelson, a moderate who has served as an insurance commissioner and has a foundation as an insurance executive, a strong leader who understands the state system and who works well with others, is both pro free market and consumer, and can represent the views required in many forums.
Nelson will face federal regulatory pressure from many fronts, and consumer coverage issues and crises; deal with issue such as availability and affordability in the face of global warming, building safety; and must integrate national reforms and legislation with state regulatory system, while championing it at the same time. Dodd Frank Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) implementation mixed with state politics and resource issues loom large, as does flood insurance, fiscal issues and economic recovery.
Vaughan herself said today when asked, “I think it’s a terrific choice. I am thrilled that the NAIC was able to get a CEO who has such breadth of experience in the industry and in public policy. He knows Washington, which is a huge strength, given the increasing importance of Washington politics these days. A wonderful choice.”
Nelson, who voted for the PPACA, upset many of his more conservative colleagues and insurance industry folk in Nebraska for his support of the controversial act.