New Mexico Insurance Chief: ‘Sad’ Comments Led to Resignation

By | May 6, 2010

New Mexico Insurance Superintendent Morris Chavez announced he will resign, saying he and his family have been the targets of “sad and derogatory” online comments in the wake of a contentious health insurance rate case his office recently settled.

Chavez submitted a short resignation letter to the chairman of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, which oversees the Insurance Division.

“I didn’t realize that people could be so mean-spirited when they don’t understand my job or the job I have to do according to the law,” Chavez told The Associated Press.

Commission members indicated they would accept Chavez’s resignation. The Commission has appointed deputy superintendent Tom Rushton as interim superintendent. No time table was given for appointing a permanent replacement for Chavez.

Chavez has served as head of the Insurance Division since October 2006.

His resignation comes a week after the division wrapped up a rate case involving Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico and about 40,000 of the company’s customers. A settlement agreement was signed by the division, the company, the state attorney general’s office and insurance customer Jody Neal-Post shortly before a public hearing that had been called to give critics a chance to talk about a planned rate increase.

Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks criticized the agreement, saying people were not given a chance to voice their concerns.

Chavez, who had said he learned of the settlement during a conference 45 minutes before the hearing, argued that the division heard protests over the increase and that the settlement would end up saving consumers millions of dollars.

Chavez said he believed the settlement was reached in the best interest of consumers, but he acknowledged that others didn’t see it that way.

“There’s only so much under the law that we can do in terms of disapproving rates, and we follow the law,” he said. “There’s got to be an individual to blame, and right now I’m that individual, unfortunately, when it’s the system that’s at fault, no one person.”

Chavez could have waited longer for the dust to settle from the Blue Cross case, but he said he decided to resign after talking with his family.

“I’m shocked as to some of the comments that have been made about me and my family, and life is too short,” he said. “It was a difficult decision.”

Marks said it’s time for change within the Insurance Division.

“I’m hoping that we can step up our game when it comes to health insurance rate issues and other issues,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more essential, both with what’s going on in the industry and the fact that we’re going to be implementing federal health care reform.”

Chavez said he’s confident the division staff is capable of “doing what needs to be done” to fight for New Mexicans and their health coverage.

Commission chairman David King thanked Chavez for his service and wished him well.

“We appreciate the work he’s done here on behalf of the state,” King said in a statement.

Before heading the Insurance Division, Chavez was the state’s gaming representative. He had worked for the state Gaming Control Board since 2004 and was responsible for monitoring whether Indian tribes were complying with state compacts that govern casinos on tribal lands.

He received his law degree from the University of New Mexico in 1998 and worked for insurance companies in Albuquerque and Santa Fe before becoming the state gaming representative.

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