Russell Toal, an executive in the state Human Services Department, won appointment Saturday as New Mexico’s next superintendent of insurance – the first leadership change in the office in nearly a decade.
Toal has a deep background in public health in New Mexico, Georgia and other states. He is now the state’s deputy secretary of human services.
Toal said Saturday that he would push for transparency and more public awareness for New Mexico’s often-overlooked Office of the Superintendent of Insurance – a 100-employee agency that regulates insurance and handles customer complaints.
“I really look forward to this opportunity and challenge,” Toal said after winning the appointment.
He is set to succeed the state’s longtime superintendent of insurance, John Franchini, who withdrew his application for another four-year term earlier this month and announced his retirement instead.
Toal’s appointment came during a daylong meeting of the state’s insurance nominating committee, which interviewed eight candidates.
Diane Denish, a former lieutenant governor of New Mexico and chairwoman of the committee, said it was an impressive pool of candidates.
Toal won appointment on a 9-0 vote.
“He had the broadest experience in what we were looking for,” Denish said after the meeting.
The new insurance superintendent will start a four-year term Jan. 1. The salary is $156,000 a year, or roughly in line with the pay of state Cabinet secretaries.
Toal said he would work to establish a regulatory system that encourages innovation and pursue strategies to make insurance products easier for consumers to understand.
Toal has overseen a major information technology project in the Human Services Department and also worked as a consultant in New Mexico. He once served as the commissioner of public health in Georgia, putting him in charge of nearly 1,000 people.
“I’ve been doing long and hard work throughout my career,” Toal said.
He told the committee he grew up in a rural town and saw firsthand how a shortage of doctors and access to health care can damage a community.
The Office of the Superintendent of Insurance has tremendous potential, Toal said, to help people facing troubling health care decisions because of their health plans. But the agency is often overlooked and must make sure consumers know it’s an avenue for help, he said.
Toal also said he hopes to promote better collaboration with other state departments and the Legislature.