Gov. William Donald Schaefer ended weeks of speculation yesterday by naming Johns Hopkins University President William C. Richardson to head the state's powerful new health care commission and picking private insurance consultant Dwight K. Bartlett III as Maryland's next insurance commissioner.
In appointing Dr. Richardson to oversee the start-up of the Health Care Access and Cost Commission, the governor selected a health care policy expert who has been directly involved in the purchase of health insurance plans for public employees and who has researched and taught a variety of health issues at five universities over the past 30 years.
The new commission will have broad authority over physicians and other health care practitioners -- including the power to regulate the types of procedures they perform and, potentially, the fees they can charge for their services.
Dr. Richardson said he was confident that the law would improve access to medical care and eventually lower medical costs. He called it "path-breaking," "imaginative" and "foresightful."
"We'll look back in a very few years and see that Maryland is in the forefront of the nation," he said.
Mr. Schaefer said he intends to name the remaining six members of the commission next week. All seven jobs are unsalaried, but behind-the-scenes competition has been keen among doctors, insurers and other health care providers to place members friendly to their interests on the commission.
The seven commission members and the new insurance commissioner must be confirmed by the state Senate. Rather than wait until January, which would be customary, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said confirmation hearings will be held next month.
Dr. Richardson said that as soon as the full commission is in place, it will begin to decide the contents of a medical benefits package that health insurers will be required to offer small businesses in the state. The panel also will begin to collect data on medical fees and procedures that he predicted will be the key to "keeping costs and the rate of increase under control."
To implement the insurance provisions of the new law, Dr. Richardson will have to work directly with Mr. Bartlett, a 62-year-old Anne Arundel County resident who once was chief actuary for the U.S. Social Security Administration.
The two men met for the first time yesterday, minutes after the governor announced their appointments.
Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, who shepherded the health care reform bill through the legislature, unequivocally praised both appointments. He said the governor "hit the jackpot" with Dr. Richardson and called Mr. Bartlett "another major leaguer."
Mr. Bartlett said he did not initially seek the job but was recommended by others "inside and outside the insurance industry" whom he declined to identify.
Page W. Boinest, the governor's press secretary, said Mr. Bartlett's name was first mentioned by state Licensing and Regulation Secretary William A. Fogle Jr., whose department has been responsible for insurance regulation.
Though chosen yesterday, Mr. Bartlett will not be formally appointed until after the Board of Public Works votes next week on a proposed increase in the insurance commissioner's salary to $90,000 from the current $72,452. The increase was authorized by the legislature in recognition of the difficulty and complexity of the job, and as a means of attracting qualified applicants.
Mr. Bartlett will replace John A. Donaho, who was fired by Mr. Fogle in early April after a dispute involving legislation to bolster state regulation of nonprofit insurers such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland.
The legislature passed the Blue Cross bill and legislation to collect $4.8 million in fees from the insurance industry to pay for strengthened regulation of all insurers, which is required for national accreditation.
On the session's final day, the General Assembly also voted to make the Insurance Division independent of Mr. Fogle's department, to give the governor authority to appoint the next insurance commissioner to a four-year term that will outlast the current gubernatorial administration, and to raise the commissioner's salary to a level commensurate with that of a Cabinet secretary.
Mr. Bartlett acknowledged yesterday that as part of winning the job, he was interviewed by retired banker J. Owen Cole, a friend and confidant of Mr. Schaefer's. But he said he did not know Mr. Cole was a member of the Blue Cross board of directors or that he was a former director of the Baltimore property and casualty insurance company USF&G; Corp.
Mr. Bartlett said Mr. Cole did not mention either company during the interview. Rather, he said, Mr. Cole's "role was to be a salesman, to convince me it would be a good thing" to become insurance commissioner.
He also said he was aware that Insurance Division employees are anxious about job security and added, "It is not my style to clean house. Those who performed well, they are safe."
2 GUBERNATORIAL APPOINTMENTS
Dwight K. Bartlett III
New Job: state insurance commissioner
Current Job: Has run Bartlett Consulting Services Inc., a private management and actuarial consulting firm for life insurers, employee benefit plan sponsors, and government agencies, since 1989.
Previous Jobs: Vice president, chief actuary and later president and director of Mutual of America Life Insurance Co., a New York company with $5 billion in assets, 1981 to 1989; chief actuary for the U.S. Social Security Administration, 1975 to 1981; senior vice president and chief actuary, Monumental Life Insurance Co., 1960-1979.
Education: Harvard University, B.A., cum laude, 1953; Johns Hopkins University, M.S., management science, 1965.
Personal: 62 years old; married; grown children; lives in Anne Arundel County.