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Cabinet Re-Opens Search After Deadlocking Over Insurance Chief

Credit Nick Evans

Florida’s Cabinet is at odds over who should become the state’s next Insurance Commissioner.  The candidate search is back on, and Cabinet officials are hoping to agree on a successor at their next meeting.

At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting state officials conducted interviews with two finalists in a bid to replace Florida’s current top insurance regulator.  Office of Insurance Regulation, orOIR, Commissioner Kevin McCarty will leave the post in early May.  The interview process began with Jeffrey Bragg, a former Treasury official who set up and oversaw the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Program. 

Bragg boasts 40 years in the insurance industry working in the public and private sector, and he’s seen as Governor Scott’s favorite for the position.  He pitched himself as a willing functionary for the Cabinet.

“As the COO I don’t make policy,” Bragg told Cabinet members. “I implement your policy, and I’m responsible to you, and each and every one of you in some cases on a daily basis, to make sure that your policies are carried out.”

And that’s exactly what Governor Scott wants to hear.  In the past, the governor has shown he’s willing to drop the axe on intractable agency heads.  At the end of 2014, he pushed out Gerald Bailey—the state’s top cop at the time.  Bailey alleged the firing came after he rebuffed the governor’s efforts to interfere with department investigations.

The other finalist up for consideration was Rep. Bill Hager (R-Delray Beach). 

“I know insurance,” he said, “I know all lines of insurance, and I know them in depth and in detail.”

“I know insurance regulation.  I know Florida.  I know Florida’s politics—I’ve been an elected official in this state since 2002.”

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is backing Hager’s bid.  In this year’s session they partnered on a bill requiring life insurers take extra steps to pay claims to beneficiaries.  

Hager has been working in the industry nearly as long as Bragg, and he served as Iowa’s insurance commissioner in the late 1980s.  He and Bragg are Republicans, and both offered a number of boiler plate responses focused on encouraging private companies to participate in Florida’s market.  But Hager offered an idea about long-term care coverage.

“For example, one of the things I would like to see from a creative standpoint is life insurance,” Hager explained.  “There’s no reason why we ought not be able to work with the industry to as people get older see some kind of a conversion from the cash value in life policies have the flexibility to convert it into long term care policies whether through a rider, etc.”

Much of the discussion focused on property insurance, but Attorney General Pam Bondi asked both candidates about health insurance in the wake of the Affordable Care Act—and that’s where Bragg had a bit of a hiccup.

Bondi asked about Navigators, and Bragg didn’t appear to know what they do. Navigators help people choose plans on the federal exchange, and Bondi has been suspicious of the program since at least 2013.  But state law requires Navigators register with the CFO’s office, and the agency posts their names on its website.  

In the end, CFO Atwater moved to give the job to Hager, but state law demands the CFO and the governor agree—and Gov. Scott wasn’t biting.

“I won’t second it,” he said bluntly.   

Instead the Cabinet is reopening the search.  They’ll be taking applications until April 15 with an eye on approving a new commissioner at the next meeting, April 26.

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