Good insurance for Maryland

June 02, 1993

He's hardly a household name, but Dwight K. Bartlett III will play a big role in issues with a large impact on Maryland consumers. The newly named insurance commissioner will help shape a basic health insurance plan for small businesses, deal with the continuing woes of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, seek national insurance accreditation for the state and examine charges of exorbitant auto-insurance rates for city drivers.

Mr. Bartlett, named last week to a four-year term by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, comes to the job with a sterling background: chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, president of a major national insurance company and owner of his own private management and actuarial consulting firm. Now he will oversee the entire insurance industry in Maryland.

He begins with some key advantages. First, the legislature agreed this spring to free the insurance commissioner from the meddling of Licensing secretary William A. Fogle. The new Maryland Insurance Administration will be an independent agency of state government. Mr. Bartlett will answer to the governor, not to Mr. Fogle.

Second, lawmakers consented to spending an extra $4.8 million (raised by increasing fees charged insurance companies) so Mr. Bartlett can win accreditation for Maryland from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners by getting tougher on its review of insurer's books. This is crucial if Maryland wants to keep home-grown insurers headquartered in the state.

Third, legislators gave the commissioner new powers to force Blue Cross to improve its financial situation and to get approval from the state before plunging into any more dubious ventures.

Maryland's last commissioner, John A. Donaho, was fired for not being tactful in his comments about Blue Cross. Mr. Bartlett is likely to be just as tough on the Blues, but in a quiet manner.

That approach will come in handy in dealing with the new Maryland Health Care Access and Cost Commission, the panel set up to reform this state's health-care system. William C. Richardson, the president of Johns Hopkins University named to head the panel last week, already has said he will work closely with Mr. Bartlett in devising a health-care insurance strategy. Foremost on his list: a basic but comprehensive insurance package that will be appealing to small businesses.

This is a time of change for insurance companies. Mr. Bartlett will have to foster reform while ensuring that Maryland-based insurers are financially sound and are not overpricing their policies. The state's No. 1 insurance man certainly has his hands full.

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