Former Md. Insurance Chief Picked to Head Public Utilities Panel

February 21, 2007

Gov. Martin O’Malley nominated former Maryland Insurance Commissioner Steven Larsen to head the Public Service Commission on Friday, tapping a man with a reputation for standing up for consumers’ interests but with no direct experience in regulating utilities.

O’Malley described Larsen as an independent voice with integrity who can “rebuild this commission,” which has been criticized for not taking a strong enough stance regulating business — at the expense of consumers.

Larsen won praise while insurance commissioner in 2003 for ruling against the proposed $1.37 billion sale of CareFirst to WellPoint Health Networks, a California insurer. Larsen was critical of $119.6 million in bonuses and other incentives for CareFirst executives and board members.

Larsen, 47, was nominated by O’Malley to replace former Chairman Kenneth Schisler, who resigned last month under pressure from the governor and other Democrats, who were angry about a 72 percent electricity rate hike that was approved last year.

In addition to Larsen, O’Malley nominated former PSC member Susanne Brogan to return to the five-member commission. The governor also reappointed Harold Williams to stay on the panel.

Schisler, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, had been heavily criticized over the commission’s approval last spring of a 72 percent rate hike plan by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. The vote allowed the expiration of price caps that had been in place since 1999.

Larsen, who was insurance commissioner from 1997 to 2003, has been working as executive vice president of Amerigroup Corp., Inc., a publicly traded health care company. Larsen said he was still working out details of his starting date to chair the PSC, and expected to be working officially in less than a month.

Larsen declined to comment on how he would like to see the commission address the rate hike, saying he wanted to make sure he gathered all the facts before giving an opinion.

“Before we have a chance to regroup and talk, I really don’t want to play any of this stuff out prematurely,” Larsen said. “I want to make sure that we do it right so when we’re ready to have good and clear answers, we’ll have them,” Larsen said.

Larsen’s nomination requires Senate approval.

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