The accountant and industry executive taking over as Kansas’ top insurance regulator next month says creating a more robust market is a top goal and argues that greater competition will address problems with the federal health care overhaul.
Insurance Commissioner-elect Ken Selzer is confident that he can attract insurance companies into the state and encourage others already in Kansas to do more business. He said during an Associated Press interview that he’ll also build on the insurance department’s already strong anti-fraud and consumer education divisions.
Selzer, a Republican, takes office Jan. 12, replacing retiring Commissioner Sandy Praeger, who’s held the office for 12 years.
Praeger broke ranks with the GOP by praising the federal health care overhaul for expanding insurance coverage. Selzer says as commissioner, the department will look for ways to push back against the 2010 law championed by President Barack Obama.
But repeatedly during his interview, Selzer came back to promoting competition as a crucial part of the commissioner’s job. Asked about a possible state response to the federal health care overhaul — which most Republicans argue created burdensome regulations and drove up costs — Selzer again mentions wooing companies to create greater competition.
“We aren’t going to wait for them to dial us up,” he said. “We’re going to call them up.”
He also said: “The end goal here is the consumer — doing what’s right for the consumer. You can achieve that by having a more robust industry in Kansas.”
Selzer, 61, will retire as an executive managing director of Aon Benfield, a global company providing coverage for insurance companies against catastrophic claims. He emphasized his background as a certified public accountant in his successful campaign.
He lives in Leawood in the Kansas City area but grew up on a family farm outside of Goessel, in central Kansas, along the historic Chisholm Trail.
Selzer said he knows many of the industry executives he’ll deal with once in office. As an example of how such ties help, he believes he can persuade firms catering to homeowners to take a longer-term view of the losses they cover, rather than focus on a few years’ worth from bad weather.
“I am confident I can encourage many of those companies to relook at Kansas and take a more accommodating position for Kansans,” he said.
Praeger argued in a recent column that the Kansas insurance industry has thrived during her tenure, and state Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat who serves on the chamber’s insurance committee, said he believes the industry received a “fair shake” with Praeger as commissioner. He said any commissioner’s ability to woo companies is limited by the state’s relatively small market.
Hawk also is wary about the state attempting to block or stall parts of the federal health care overhaul in the name of addressing problems, saying, “I would certainly hate to see our commissioner insert himself in work Congress ought to be doing.”
Selzer is careful not to criticize Praeger’s tenure, though he’s promising a “top to bottom” examination of the department. He said his transition into office is going smoothly and described Praeger as supportive.
Also this month, Selzer attended a meeting of Gov. Sam Brownback’s council of economic advisers, saying he was prompted by his interest in attracting insurance companies to Kansas.
“We can do two good things for Kansas by bringing in insurance companies,” he said. “We can create a more robust market here, and we can bring more taxpayers to the state of Kansas — provide more jobs.”
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