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Meet the 16 women who run state insurance departments

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Women’s History Month began as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress asked the president to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.”

Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.”

In 1987, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed legislation designating the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the president to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”

On a global scale, March 8 has been designated as International Women’s Day, an opportunity for all countries to “celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women” as well as making a commitment to gender parity.

Insurance history was made in West Virginia in May 1961.

West Virginia-first woman insurance commissioner-Virginia Mae Brown

The first woman to be the commissioner of any state’s department of insurance was Virginia Mae Brown, who was named to the post by West Virginia Gov. William Wallace Barron. In March 1964, Brown became the first woman appointed to the Interstate Commerce Commission, thanks to President Lyndon Johnson. In 1969, she became chairwoman of the commission.

According to the National Women’s History Project, the National Women’s History Month theme for 2016 honors women who have shaped America’s history and its future through their public service and government leadership.

In keeping with the theme, we’re honoring the day and the month by spotlighting the 16 women who head the departments of insurance in their states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Their backgrounds and experiences are varied, but they all bring a strong commitment to regulating the insurance industry in their jurisdictions to protect their consumers.

Here they are:

Alaska: Lori K. Wing-Heier

Lori K. Wing-Heier was appointed director of the Alaska Division of Insurance in February 2014. She has 30 years of experience in the insurance industry as a broker and an agent.

Before taking on the director’s role, she served as the director of risk management for an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporation, where she designed and implemented a comprehensive enterprise-wide risk management program. She’s also been a senior vice president at a national brokerage working with Alaskan and was president of the Alaska Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers Inc.

A resident of Anchorage, Alaska, Wing-Heier attended North Central Michigan College and holds the Certified Insurance Counselor and Certified Risk Manager designations.

Colorado: Marguerite Salazar

Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar

From Alaska, we move down to Colorado and Marguerite Salazar, who was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper as Colorado Insurance Commissioner in August of 2013.

As the chief executive of the Division of Insurance, Salazar describes her role as key in assisting consumers and other stakeholders with insurance needs, including homeowners affected by Colorado wildfires and subsequent flooding.

She said she believes that it’s important to work with the insurance industry to bring “an inclusive, open, firm and fair-minded regulatory approach to all lines of insurance under her supervision such as life, homeowner, property and casualty, auto, workers’ compensation and title insurance.”

Previously, President Obama appointed Salazar regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Region VIII. As regional director, she played a vital role in the department’s effort to implement the Affordable Care Act. Prior to this appointment, she served for more than 20 years as president and CEO of Valley-Wide Health Systems, a large, rural community health center covering 22 counties in Southern Colorado and serving more than 40,000 patients through 26 primary health care clinics. 

Salazar holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a fellow at the National Hispana Leadership Institute.

Connecticut: Katharine L. Wade

Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Katharine L WadeKatharine L. Wade was appointed Connecticut’s insurance commissioner by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on March 20, 2015.

She has more than 20 years’ experience in the fields of regulatory compliance and consumer outreach.

Wade has initiated and is overseeing a number of initiatives aimed at enhancing consumer education, regulatory efficiency and customer service. She has created a free consumer letter, “Insurance Matters,” which features topical issues explained in an easy-to-understand format and is available on the department website.

In addition to managing state regulatory issues, under Wade’s leadership, the department is the lead regulator on eight supervisory colleges — a regulatory collaboration among state and international insurance regulators to assess the financial health and risks of Connecticut-based companies. The department also is a participating regulator in seven supervisory colleges for companies that have divisions in Connecticut.

While at Cigna from 1992 to 2013, Wade led a 130-member national team responsible for federal and state governmental affairs, public policy and compliance for Cigna’s health, group life and disability businesses in her capacity as vice president. During the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Wade oversaw Cigna’s compliance with all ACA’s laws and regulations. She also oversaw the global health insurer’s comprehensive international regulatory review during supervisory colleges and developed the company’s public policy structure to deal with its global business units.

Wade earned a bachelor’s in history from Simmons College in Boston.

Delaware: Karen Weldin Stewart

Delaware Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin StewartUnlike many insurance commissioners who are appointed to their positions, Karen Weldin Stewart was elected in 2008 — and re-elected in 2012 — as Delaware’s 25th insurance commissioner.

In 2014, the most recent data available, the Delaware Department of Insurance ranked 10th in the United States in total written insurance premium, and regulated companies with more than $620 billion in assets.

In 1991, Stewart founded the International Association of Insurance Receivers and was elected three times as president. She received her Certification for Insurance Receiver, Multiple Lines (CIR-ML) in 1995.

Stewart currently serves on four state committees: the Delaware Health Care Commission, the State Employee Benefits Committee, the Deferred Compensation Council and the Council on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

In addition, Stewart serves on 37 task forces, working groups, and committees of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, including the prestigious Accreditation Committee. She serves on numerous NAIC supervisory colleges, which facilitate oversight of internationally active insurance companies.

A graduate of Brandywine College, Stewart’s Delaware roots go back to the 1600s when her Quaker ancestors immigrated to America.

Illinois: Anne Melissa Dowling

Illinois Insurance Commissioner Anne Melissa DowlingGov. Bruce Rauner appointed Anne Melissa Dowling acting director of the Illinois Department of Insurance on July 1, 2015.

She served for four years in leadership positions for state insurance departments in Connecticut, and now Illinois, after 25 years in the private sector.

Prior to her regulatory work, Dowling was a senior vice president at MassMutual where she built the institutional insurance business to more than $12 billion in annual revenue and created an award-winning Women’s Markets Initiative, which contributed to an increased number of female sales agents, sales materials and approaches geared toward women.

She also served as chief investment officer at Connecticut Mutual and held positions in investments and treasury functions at Aetna Life & Casualty and Travelers Insurance.

A graduate of Amherst College with a bachelor’s in fine arts and French literature, Dowling also earned an MBA in finance from Columbia University. She holds the CFA Institute’s Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation.

Montana: Monica J. Lindeen

Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica J. LindeenMonica J. Lindeen was elected Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, Montana State Auditor in 2008 and re-elected in November 2012.

During Lindeen’s tenure, her office has returned more than $374 million to investors and insurance consumers and fielded tens of thousands of phone calls from Montanans struggling with their insurance companies.

Lindeen was elected president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and served in that capacity throughout 2015. In 2013, she received the Excellence in Consumer Advocacy Award, presented by consumer representatives on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. She received the honor in recognition for her work as a strong voice for consumer protection and her dedication in maintaining states’ rights in insurance regulation.

Lindeen’s career in public service began when she represented a rural district in the Montana House of Representatives. She quickly became a leader in the House, and served four terms (1999–2006).

Prior to public service, Lindeen formed an Internet business — Montana Communications Network, one of the first Montana-based Internet service providers. From 1994 to 1996, she was a part-time faculty member in the Montana State University-Billings English Department and taught simultaneously as a graduate assistant in the school’s Department of Educational Foundations.

Lindeen earned a bachelor’s degree in education, specializing in English and history. She completed graduate coursework in educational foundations at MSU-Billings.

Nevada: Amy L. Parks

Nevada Insurance Commissioner Amy L ParksAmy L. Parks was appointed acting Nevada commissioner of insurance upon the July 2, 2015, resignation of Nevada Insurance Commissioner Scott J. Kipper.

This is Parks’s second stint as acting commissioner, a role she assumed from Aug. 15, 2011, to Oct. 24, 2011, upon the resignation of Insurance Commissioner Brett J. Barratt. 

She also has served as chief insurance counsel and hearing officer for the Nevada Division of Insurancesince the spring of 2009, and insurance counsel and hearing officer for the division since August 2004. As chief insurance counsel, Parks functioned as the chief legal adviser to the commissioner and the division, and as direct supervisor of the division’s legal and enforcement section.

Parks received a bachelor’s degree in laboratory medicine from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1980. In December 1995, Parks received law degree from the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. 

Before joining the Nevada state government as an attorney in 2004, Parks practiced as a private attorney primarily in the areas of mass tort, toxic exposure and medical malpractice litigation.

New York: Maria T. Vullo

NY Insurance Commissioner Maria T VulloNominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 21 to be the superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, Maria T. Vullo — currently the acting superintendent — is an experienced senior litigator and manager, with more than 25 years of practice in business litigation and investigations.

New York’s Senate is expected to confirm Vullo’s nomination.

She is of counsel at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where she was a partner for 20 years. She previously oversaw the Economic Justice Division in the Office of the New York State Attorney General, with a staff of approximately 200.

The Department of Financial Services is charged with protecting consumers and markets in New York State from fraud and financial crises, as well as reforming the regulation of financial services to keep pace with dynamic changes within the industry. The department was created in 2011 by the merger of the state’s banking and insurance departments.

In 2010, Vullo served as executive deputy attorney general for economic justice under Cuomo, who was the state’s attorney general that year. There she oversaw the Bureaus of Investor Protection, Antitrust, Real Estate Finance, Consumer Frauds and Internet. In that role she handled numerous consumer protection, investor protection and antitrust matters.

Vullo earned her law degree from the New York University School of Law, an master’s degree in public administration from the New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service as part of its Executive Leadership Program, and a bachelor’s degree rom the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

She is a member of the boards of directors of the National Organization of Italian-American Women, the Women’s Equality Coalition and the ERA Coalition Inc. She is a member of the New York Women’s Bar Association and the Women Trial Lawyers Caucus.

Ohio: Mary Taylor

Ohio Insurance Commissioner Mary TaylorMary Taylor was sworn in as Ohio’s 65th lieutenant governor Jan. 10, 2011, the same day Gov. John R. Kasich named her to lead Ohio’s Common Sense Initiative (CSI) to reform the state’s regulatory policies, as well as to serve as director of the Ohio Department of Insurance.

Through these two assignments, Taylor says she is committed to making Ohio a jobs- and business-friendly state. On Jan. 12, 2015, Kasich and Taylor were sworn in to their second term in office.

CSI reviews Ohio’s regulatory system to eliminate excessive and duplicative rules that stand in the way of job creation.

In 2006, Taylor was the first certified public accountant to be elected to serve as the state’s auditor, and she transformed the office into a nationally recognized, 21st-century government auditing firm. The National White Collar Crime Center praised Taylor for her excellence in fighting and preventing fraud and for recovering millions in misspent tax dollars. The Ohio Society of CPAs called Taylor one of their “most influential” members.

Elected to the state legislature in 2002, and re-elected in 2004, Taylor was instrumental in passing Ohio’s 2005 tax reform package that reduced personal income taxes by 21%. The measure also eliminated the tangible personal property tax, the corporate franchise tax and the inventory tax imposed on businesses.

Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in taxation from the University of Akron. She began her career in 1990 with Deloitte and Touche, one of the “big four” national accounting firms. She joined the Akron firm of Bober, Markey, Fedorovich & Co. in 1994, where she served as director of the firm’s tax department and senior manager of the employee benefits practice.

Oregon: Laura N. Cali

Oregon insurance commisioner Laura N CaliLaura Cali, an actuary who led the Oregon Insurance Division through the review of 2014 health plan rates amid major reforms, became Oregon insurance commissioner on July 15, 2013.

Effective Jan. 1, Cali became the administrator of the state’s new Division of Financial Regulation, created by a merger of the Insurance Division and the Division of Finance and Corporate Securities.

The Division of Financial Regulation protects consumers and regulate insurance, depository institutions, trust companies, securities, and consumer financial products and services. 

Cali began her state government career in mid-2011 as a casualty actuary specializing in Workers’ Compensation and medical malpractice. She previously worked as a consulting actuary for Towers Watson in San Francisco, overseeing projects for self-insured companies, public entities and insurers. She started her career at Liberty Mutual’s home office in Boston, building rating models for workers’ compensation and general liability lines of business.

Although Cali’s area of expertise is in property and casualty insurance, she became heavily involved in health insurance issues in 2012–2013 as chief actuary and manager of the division’s product regulation section. In that position, she helped lead the division’s efforts to ensure that health insurers complied with the Affordable Care Act by Jan. 1, 2014.

Cali grew up in Sonoma, Calif., and received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics from Boston University. She is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries.

Pennsylvania: Teresa Miller

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Teresa MillerTeresa D. Miller was appointed insurance commissioner by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Jan. 20, 2015, and confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate on June 3, 2015.

During her term as Pennsylvania insurance commissioner, Miller has started several initiatives to protect consumers, including addressing issues such as price optimization, the so-called “widow’s penalty,” used by some auto insurers in setting rates, and coverage of 3D mammography.

Miller added a consumer liaison to the department staff to interact directly with consumers and bring their concerns to her. She has also made it a priority to make the department’s website more consumer friendly and worked to make additional resources available to consumers, including two videos currently available to assist consumers in shopping for and using their health insurance.

Prior to coming to Pennsylvania, Miller was a partner at Crowell and Moring in its health care group, focusing on matters related to the implementation and enforcement of the Affordable Care Act . Before this, she served as acting director of the State Exchanges Group, the Oversight Group, and the Insurance Programs Group at the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Here she helped roll out regulation and guidance implementing the private market reforms of the Affordale Care Act, and helped develop and implement policies and rules governing state-based exchanges.

Before going to Washington, D.C., Miller served as the administrator of the Oregon Insurance Division, helping implement the early stages of the Affordable Care Act at the state level, and making significant changes to Oregon’s health insurance rate review process.

Miller received a law degree from Willamette University College of Law, and bachelor’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University.

Puerto Rico: Ángela Weyne Roig

Puerto Rico Insurance Commissioner Angela WeyneÁngela Weyne Roig was appointed by Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla on Jan. 2, 2013, to serve as commissioner of insurance for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

With more than 40 years of experience in the insurance and banking sectors, Weyne has had an accomplished and award-winning career in insurance, including management of a premium finance company, a managing general agency and a claims adjusting firm; presidencies of life and of property and casualty companies; and the presidency of the largest bank-owned insurance agency in Puerto Rico.

She was also president of the first reinsurance company incorporated in Puerto Rico and served as president of two health maintenance organizations.

Weyne earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico and has received many awards through her professional career, such as the Top Management Award of the Sales and Marketing Association, Outstanding Women in Business of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, and Woman of the Year from the Professional Women’s Association of Puerto Rico.

Weyne is a member of the World Presidents Organization and served as chairwoman of the local chapter. Among the entities where she has served as board member are the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, the Puerto Rico Association of Insurance Companies and the Trust of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico.

Currently, Weyne serves as a board member of the Puerto Rico State Insurance Fund Corp., the Automobile Accidents Compensations Administration and the Health Insurance Administration.

Rhode Island: Elizabeth Kelleher Dwyer

Rhode Island Insurance Commissioner Elizabeth Keller DwyerElizabeth Kelleher Dwyer was appointed deputy director and superintendent of insurance and banking on Jan. 11.

Prior to this appointment, she had been employed by the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation for 15 years, first as general counsel to the Insurance Division and later as associate director. Prior to government service, Dwyer was in private law practice in California and Rhode Island, specializing in insurance regulation and litigation.

Dwyer is a past president of the Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association and served on the Rhode Island Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Gender in the Courts. In 2010, she was awarded the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Justice Award for Consumer Protection. She has served as chair of a number of National Association of Insurance Commissioners working groups and has achieved the designation of Professional in Insurance Regulation from the NAIC.

Dwyer received a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration from Providence College in 1982 and a law degree from Pepperdine University in 1985.

Tennessee: Julie Mix McPeak

Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeakJulie Mix McPeak was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to lead the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance in January 2011.

Before being named to lead the department, she practiced as counsel to the insurance practice group of law firm Burr & Forman LLP.

McPeak, who has more than 20 years of legal and administrative experience in state government, is the first woman to serve as chief insurance regulator in more than one state.

She served as the executive director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance after nine years as an attorney for the office, the final five as general counsel. She also served as general counsel to the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet.

In February 2016, McPeak was elected as vice president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. A participant with NAIC for nearly 20 years, McPeak has served on the organization’s executive committee since 2013. She was elected secretary-treasurer in November 2015.

McPeak is also an executive committee member of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors and a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance.

McPeak received a law degree from the University of Louisville in 1994. She is a 1990 graduate of the University of Kentucky, where she received her bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Vermont: Susan L. Donegan

Vermont insurance commissioner Susan DoneganIn her position as the commissioner of theDepartment of Financial Regulation, Susan L. Donegan is the chief regulator of Vermont’s financial-services industry.

The department supervises traditional and captive insurance companies and their representatives; state-chartered banks and credit unions; licensed lenders and brokers; and all other non-depository financial institutions, as well as securities broker dealers and investment advisors.

Donegan worked at the department from 1985 to 1990 and was the department’s first director of securities regulation. She was later counsel to the commissioner and hearing officer at the Massachusetts Division of Insurance from 2008 to 2011. In 2011, she returned to Vermont to become deputy commissioner of the Insurance Division at the Department of Financial Regulation. She was appointed commissioner in January 2013.

In addition to her duties in Vermont, Donegan is vice chairwoman of the international insurance committee, a member of the market regulation and consumer services Committee, chairwoman of the Northeast zone and a member of the executive committee for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. She also represents the organization at the International Association of Insurance Supervisors as a member of that organization’s executive committee and vice chairwoman of the governance working group.

Donegan holds a law degree from Vermont Law School, an master’s degree in banking and financial services law from Boston University School of Law and a master’s degree in European Union and international trade law from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

She was in private law practice for many years in Boston and overseas at a major Dutch law firm specializing in financial services law and regulation, private international law, litigation, data protection and privacy law. She is admitted to practice law in Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, California, and is qualified as a solicitor in the Republic of Ireland and England and Wales within the United Kingdom.

Virginia: Jacqueline K. Cunningham

Virginia Insurance Commissioner Jacqueline K CunninghamHaving worked at the Virginia State Corporation Commission since 1993, Jacqueline K. Cunningham was appointed as Virginia’s 13th commissioner of insurance in 2011.

Cunningham had been deputy commissioner of the life and health division of the commission’s Bureau of Insurance for more than six years.

She has been engaged in efforts by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners regarding state responses to the requirements of federal health care law.

Cunningham also works with the Virginia Health Reform Commission and its predecessor, the Virginia Health Reform Initiative, providing technical support to its efforts to ensure meaningful reform that meets the needs of Virginia’s residents and government.

She is also the vice chairwoman of the Producer Licensing Task Force and as vice chair of the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission.

Editor’s note: Information about the commissioners and their photos were obtained from their respective state insurance department websites or from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’s website.

See also:

20 women in insurance you need to know

Women: On how to be successful and improve client relationships

Yet another gender gap: key facts about women in 3 infographics

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