The Pennsylvania Senate in a July 3 roll call vote unanimously approved Joel S. Ario to become the state’s insurance commissioner, a year after Gov. Ed Rendell first nominated the former chief insurance regulator in Oregon.
Ario’s nomination has been held up amid numerous partisan disputes over insurance between the Senate Republican majority and Rendell, a Democrat. The nomination was Rendell’s longest battle with the Senate over a cabinet-level job.
As the acting commissioner, Ario has been studying whether to allow a merger to go forward between Independence Blue Cross of Philadelphia and Highmark Inc. of Pittsburgh, the state’s two largest health insurers.
As the insurance administrator with the Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Services since 1994, Ario promoted new consumer protections involving credit scoring and other risk-rating practices; advanced health reforms that give small businesses better pooling options; built a coalition between employers, insurers and providers to create greater transparency in health care pricing by insurers and hospitals; and streamlined producer licensing and the review process for new insurance products.
Earlier in his career, Ario was executive director of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, where he led legislative and ballot campaigns for pollution prevention, recycling and campaign finance reforms.
“I was a consumer advocate before I became a regulator in 1994,” Ario has said. “I approach issues from a consumer protection perspective, with the understanding that an innovative and vibrant insurance marketplace serves both consumer and business interests.”
Ario succeeded Randy Rohrbaugh, who was named Pennsylvania’s acting insurance commissioner when Diane Koken resigned in February. Koken served three governors and was the longest-serving insurance commissioner in the state’s modern history.
Ario, 53, earned a degree from Harvard Law School in 1981. He also holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
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