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Panel considering 5 candidates for regulatory post

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SANTA FE (AP) — Five government, insurance and health care officials are in the running to manage New Mexico’s newly independent insurance regulatory agency.

Among the candidates are state Insurance Superintendent John Franchini and Milton Sanchez, who directs the Office of Health Care Reform in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

Sanchez was the New Mexico Retiree Health Care Authority’s executive director from 1990 to 2005. He was ousted from job after clashing with then-Gov. Bill Richardson over a proposal to consolidate health care programs for public employees, retirees and school workers.

Franchini has been the state’s top insurance regulator since August 2010. But starting next month, insurance regulation will no longer be part of the Public Regulation Commission.

A nine-member committee will name the next superintendent of insurance, who will run an independent office regulating insurance rates and policies. The committee, which is mostly appointed by the governor and Legislature, also has the power to remove the insurance superintendent for incompetence, willful neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.

The top regulator initially will serve a term expiring Dec. 31, 2015, and then be appointed by the panel to four-year terms.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment last year to remove oversight of the insurance industry from the five-member elected PRC, which has selected the insurance superintendent.

The panel will interview candidates for the regulatory job on June 19 in Albuquerque.

Other candidates are:

Kimothy “Kim” Sparks, chief quality officer at Alta Vista Regional Hospital in Las Vegas, N.M. He is a lawyer and a registered nurse. He was director of risk management and patient safety at Lovelace Health System in Albuquerque in 2008-2001.

—Howell Palmer, executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Security Mutual Life Insurance Company in Binghamton, N.Y. from 2006 to 2012. He has worked in the insurance industry since 1973, and moved to Santa Fe last year.

—Kent Paul, CEO of AMERIND Risk Management Corp. from 1999 to 2012. The Albuquerque-area company administers self-insurance plans for Indian tribes. Paul currently operates a consulting business.

The regulatory overhaul comes as the state implements health insurance reforms required by a 2010 federal law, including establishing a health insurance exchange that could allow nearly 200,000 uninsured New Mexicans to obtain medical coverage. The exchange will serve as an online marketplace where small businesses and uninsured individuals can shop for federally subsidized insurance from private companies.

The state’s insurance regulator will oversee rates for health plans offered through the exchange just as it now approves the pricing of policies offered by insurers doing business in New Mexico.

Franchini, in his letter of application, said the state’s insurance regulatory office has improved during his tenure.

“It is no secret that when I took the Insurance Division helm in 2010 the agency suffered from low morale, improperly assigned personnel, inefficiencies, and a dismal reputation,” Franchini wrote.

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