Sullivan steps down as state insurance commissioner

State Insurance Commissioner Thomas R. Sullivan, whose department sparked controversy last month when it approved rate hikes as high as 47 percent for Connecticut's largest health insurer, resigned Monday to take a job in the private sector, Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office confirmed.

Full details of Sullivan's departure, including his next job assignment, were not available late Monday, though the administration confirmed Sullivan would leave his state post in two weeks.

Sullivan, who was appointed Connecticut's 30th insurance commissioner by Rell in April 2007, drew criticism last month when his agency gave the green light to the largest rate increase in the state since the national health care reform was enacted.

The department defended the approval by arguing it was justified by expensive new mandates placed on insurers by the federal legislation. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is contesting the ruling.

Citizens for Economic Opportunity, a coalition of labor unions and community groups, called for Sullivan's ouster shortly after he approved the increase, charging that he "consistently rubber stamps rate increases for individual health insurance policies."

In a written response, Sullivan said removing him as commissioner would do "nothing to address the inconvenient truth that the federal healthcare reform law has caused premiums to increase due to the federal government's failure to address the rising costs of medical care while simultaneously increasing the value of the benefits carriers are required to provide."

He also drew an auto analogy to defend his ruling, saying that the federal reform measure bars companies from offering Hondas and requires them to sell Mercedes.

The outgoing commissioner also locked horns during his tenure with the state's health care advocate, Kevin Lembo, over Rell's Charter Oak health care plan.

Lembo challenged the administration's assertion in 2008 that Charter Oak, despite being marketed as "insurance" - including in a radio ad narrated by Rell - is actually a "social program" and therefore not required to meet all coverage obligations placed by law on insurance policies offered by the private sector, particularly mental health services.

But Sullivan insisted in a letter to the health care advocate that "the Insurance Department does not regulate benefits, forms and rates related to social programs which are not sold in the commercial insurance market."

Sullivan began his professional career at The Hartford, holding several management and executive-level posts before becoming senior vice president of Specialty Risk Services LLC, a subsidiary of The Hartford.

Under his leadership the Insurance Department revamped its Consumer Services Division and established new procedures to help insurance companies bring their products to market promptly.

It was unclear late Monday whom Rell would name to serve as acting insurance commissioner for the remainder of her term, which expires on Jan. 5.