AUGUSTA, Maine — Amid an ugly political fight over Republican-led changes to the regulation of health insurance in Maine, the LePage administration on Monday announced the resignation of Insurance Superintendent Mila Kofman.
In an official announcement from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation,
Commissioner Anne Head made no reference to Kofman’s often-controversial relationship with the health insurance industry and gave no reason for her departure.
But in her letter of resignation, Kofman, known as a feisty, consumer-oriented regulator with a background in health policy, consumer advocacy and academics, cited philosophical differences with the conservative, pro-business governor.
In her letter to Gov. Paul LePage dated May 2, Kofman said she and the governor share similar goals, including that of “ensuring that all of Maine’s businesses and people have access to more affordable health coverage options.” But, she said, “we have different approaches of how to get there.”
In a telephone conversation Monday, Kofman declined to be more specific about her differences with LePage. But she pointed out that the governor’s office has endorsed a number of Republican-backed health insurance bills in the current legislative session, including the sweeping regulatory changes in LD 1333, which seeks to lower costs by encouraging more competition. The bill won a final endorsement of the Legislature on Monday, largely along party lines, and is expected to be signed into law Tuesday.
While Head and agency staffers have presented requested information to lawmakers debating these changes, Kofman’s personal absence from public hearings and work sessions has promoted speculation that she may have been prohibited from testifying, a charge LePage’s office has denied.
On Monday, Kofman, choosing her words carefully, indicated that she had not elected to support the GOP-sponsored proposals.
“If those were my positions, I would have been the one testifying,” she said.
Kofman said she hopes LePage succeeds in expanding access to affordable health care in Maine.
“I respect the governor’s policy decisions. He was elected, and he deserves a fair chance at getting his policies enacted and implemented,” she said.
Appointed in 2008 by LePage’s Democratic predecessor, John Baldacci, Kofman has brought a measure of consumer-friendly “transparency, openness and collaboration” to the Insurance Bureau, according to Joe Ditre, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care.
“She is always very professional and really a rare gem,” Ditre said.
Whether focusing on health insurance, car insurance, property insurance or any of the many other lines the bureau regulates, “her goal was always to ensure that policies in Maine were in the public interest,” he said.
For example, he said, Kofman instituted the process of conducting statewide public hearings on proposed health insurance rate hikes, rather than making people travel to Augusta if they wanted to attest to the impact of skyrocketing rate increases on their lives.
Kofman drew the ire of the insurance industry by repeatedly approving significantly lower increases than they requested, Ditre noted, and, in 2009 she garnered national recognition for disallowing any built-in profits in rate increases in individual plans marketed by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine, which has a virtual lock on the individual market in Maine.
Kofman also has requested frequent “market conduct analysis” from insurers, Ditre said, to ensure that companies are operating responsibly in terms of both consumer services and financial viability.
“She is someone who understands that policies are long-term, you don’t burn your bridges and you work with both sides because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Calls for comment to Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine and to the Maine Association of Health Plans industry group were not immediately returned.
Legislative Democrats were quick to respond to the news of Kofman’s resignation, firing off a statement praising her work on behalf of Maine people struggling to afford health care coverage.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to work with Mila. Her expertise and conviction to do right by Maine people has been unwavering,” said Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, who serves as the ranking Democrat on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.
Treat said that under Kofman’s leadership, the Bureau of Insurance recovered millions of dollars on behalf of Maine’s consumers and small businesses from insurance companies — $3.5 million in 2010 alone.
“Clearly, the governor would prefer to have a ‘yes-man’ rather than an effective regulator who provides objective information to the legislature or works for the consumer,” Treat said in the statement from the House Democratic office.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett acknowledged the differences between Kofman and the new administration and said the superintendent’s resignation was not a surprise.
“We appreciate her public service and wish her nothing but the best,” she said.
Kofman’s resignation will take effect June 1. A successor has not been named.