March 21, 2017
Q&A With Iowa’s New Commissioner
by Paul Carroll
Commissioner Doug Ommen: "We may not always agree with insurers, but we are willing to talk about it."
Q: Congratulations on becoming the new Iowa insurance commissioner. You’re a Missouri native with 30 years of experience in the industry. What brought you to Iowa?
A: Thank you very much. About four years ago, I met Nick Gerhart, who was beginning his tenure as Iowa’s insurance commissioner. We had really good discussions at NAIC meetings, and he needed another member for his senior leadership team. Things really just fell into place. I’ve spent my entire career in consumer protection, and I shared Nick’s values of making government work for the people we serve — in our case, the consumers of insurance products.
Another draw for me was that Iowa is a huge insurance hub. From the outside looking in, I knew that Iowa’s regulatory culture was open communication with the regulated industry. We protect consumers and have high standards for the industry we regulate, but we communicate openly. We may not always agree with insurers, but we are willing to talk about it. I feel many states don’t have that mindset. It makes a big difference to have a focus on consumers while also working with industry in a fair, flexible and positive way. Industry ultimately wants stability and to be treated fairly, and I think that is why Iowa is home to so many insurance companies.
See also: A Commissioner’s View of Innovation
Q: How does it feel to have the title of insurance commissioner once again? Not many can say that.
A: I am confident that those insurance commissioner statistics are not kept, but in the 150 years of state insurance regulation, I may be the sixth or seventh to serve as insurance commissioner in two separate states. Perhaps I’ll be the answer to a Jeopardy question someday. I’m very pleased to have been appointed by Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds so that I can continue working to help protect consumers. We have a really, really good staff here at the Iowa Insurance Division, and I consider it an honor to lead them.
Q: What’s your vision for the Iowa Insurance Division moving forward?
A: Consumer protection will be the main focus. Our multi-faceted team is in place to make sure that Iowans are protected.
We have a market regulation team that works with consumers on complaints, enforcement attorneys that ensure companies and producers who are doing what they are supposed to be doing, a fraud bureau that consists of law enforcement officers that investigate insurance fraud and a Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) that helps Iowans on Medicare get the information they need to make informed decisions.
Another huge part of consumer protection is ensuring that the insurance companies are solvent to be able to pay claims when needed. Our financial team works hard every day so consumers are protected that way.
We also just recently launched a new website, which really puts consumers first so they can quickly and easily get the information they need.
Q: There’s always talk during a new president’s term about the first 100 days and discussions about the cabinet picks. Is it the same for a new commissioner taking over?
A: Well, in my case, I’ve been appointed by the same administration that my predecessor was. On one level, much stays the same. Early on in Commissioner Gerhart’s tenure, he knew there was a crisis coming as much of our staff was retirement-eligible in the coming years. We put in a lot of work in terms of strategic hires, putting our younger staff in positions to both learn and lead and reorganizing as necessary. We’ve been able to add necessary staff to those regulating company solvency to keep up with the growing and increasingly complex nature of our domestic industry. Still, we may look to continue adding to our senior leadership, whether that be from inside Iowa or outside given the strategic plans put in place under Commissioner Gerhart. I will work with industry, our universities, Lt. Gov. Reynolds and Gov. Branstad to help make Iowa an attractive place to do business and a home for talented insurance professionals.
As for the first 100 days, I think a lot depends on what happens at the federal level in a few areas. What happens with the ACA is yet to be seen but will have a huge impact on what we do here in Iowa. The DOL fiduciary rule is also out there as something we are waiting to see how the new administration deals with. There’s also FIO, and I suppose the list could go on. We’ll continue to be active at the NAIC level to bring ideas forward and work for the best interest of Iowans.
See also: What Is the Right Innovation Process?
Q: Iowa has generally been very forward-thinking in terms of innovation in the industry. ITL has even joined as a partner to the Global Insurance Symposium that the Iowa Insurance Division helped create. What should we expect at this year’s event?
A: The Iowa Insurance Division has been a founding partner of the Global Insurance Symposium, which is held each spring in Des Moines. This year will be the fourth year, and I think it will be the best one yet. There really is something for everyone. Many of the topics such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, corporate strategy, risk mitigation and innovation in the industry truly transcend all types of insurance. This event brings together top thought leaders in industry from around the world, industry executives, regulators and insurtech startups. I think this event is in a caliber of its own, and I’m really proud to be in a position to help the event grow and showcase all we are doing in Iowa to the rest of the insurance world.
This will be an event that folks won’t want to miss.