CONCORD, NH – Navigating the past 16 years among the state’s ever-changing business landscape, and shifting –and often fickle – political winds, outgoing NH Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny has long espoused a basic business philosophy of blunt honesty – even when it may rub some the wrong way.
“Always tell the truth, no matter what it is,” said Sevigny. “And any advice you do offer has to be in the best interest of consumers … in this role, you transcend governors and you transcend (political) parties,” Sevigny says. “Your focus is solely on the consumer and protecting their needs.”
The 76-year-old Sevigny, who will leave his post in mid-June, spent a recent spring morning with Medical Matters discussing his time at the helm of the New Hampshire Department (NHID) and some of the initiatives his team has tackled over the past two decades.
A Veteran of the U.S. Army and New Hampshire native, Sevigny spent 30-plus years at Travelers Insurance before joining the NHID first as an Assistant Commissioner and then being appointed to the top spot by then Governor Craig Benson in 2002. Leading a staff of 82, his department oversees and regulates a broad range of insurance issues including the areas of auto, life, health, home, property and casualty and disability. The oversight responsibility extends to companies both domiciled in or doing business in New Hampshire as well as of insurance brokers and other related professionals.
During his time at the head of department, Sevigny and his team have helped consumers navigate some choppy waters, among them the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, and assorted insurers leaving the NH market such as Patriot Health Care, Community Health Options and Minuteman Health.
Also notable on his resume are leadership positions with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) including serving as the organization’s president. He says those interactions help him better grasp the larger picture of the industry and apply that knowledge to his work in the Granite State.
Despite the turmoil that sometimes comes with the territory, the affable Sevigny always enjoyed the ambiguity of his job. “I love the fact that on many days I can have a plan going into the day and it can be completely shattered by noon,” he says with a smile.
While relationships between regulators and insurance carriers in other states are often adversarial, Sevigny has long held that that a fair working relationship benefits the consumer in the long run. While he recognizes the needs for sanctions when carriers run afoul of the rules, he said he’s much more interested in “making the consumer whole” when needed.
“I’ve long held that a good working relationship with the carrier benefits them and the consumer,” he says, adding that this open line of regular communication is vital. He cited recent examples of how his team worked with Anthem and other carriers to provide “a soft landing” for consumers impacted by Minuteman Health leaving the state last year.
This collaborative approach in the name of consumer protection also played a key role in the roll-out of the ACA plans for 2018. As elected officials in Washington engaged in political tug-of-war over the fate of Obamacare, insurers at the state level were hamstrung in their ability to develop rates due to ambiguity around the levels of CSRs (Cost Share Reductions). CSRs are subsidies paid by the feds to insurers so that the consumer in need benefits from lower co-pays or deductibles. In this instance, the NHID served as a go-between to advocate for the carriers on the ground in the state.
Bumps aside, Sevigny asserts, the ACA is a good thing for the state in that more people are insured. He also counts himself among those in favor of Medicaid expansion, saying that “the healthier the market, the better opportunity for cost controls … ultimately this will be to the betterment of everyone as it will impact (insurance) rates.”
“Having said that, we must address health care costs … that’s where it all starts.”
Cost transparency and cost drivers are a passion for Sevigny and his team, so much so that the department has introduced a special website – NH Health Cost. Recently updated to include new information and criteria, the site enables consumers to cost-compare a broad range of medical procedures in facilities across the state. In an upcoming edition of Medical Matters, we’ll dive deep on the site and what it means to NH’s medical shoppers.
“Consumer need to know they have choices,” Sevigny noted. He added that in addition to the new website, the department has placed a new priority on outreach and education. “We believe that a better education population (as it relates to health and insurance issues) will be better off in the end.”
He lists the threat of cyber security as a present and future challenge of the department as well as “pop-up” retail insurance plans offered over the internet.
As to what lies ahead for Sevigny, in addition to spending more time with his family and wanting to work on his golf game, he has no intentions of slowing down. He was appointed by Governor Sununu to the NH Veterans Council. The three-person council works with a staff of 10 and oversees Veteran’s affairs in the state. The work is of keen interest to Sevigny, given his past military experience. The Dover resident, who is president of his home-owners association, is also mulling possible board work and consulting opportunities.
Current NHID Assistant Commissioner John Elias will assume the corner office at the department upon Sevigny’s departure.
As he winds up his term with the NHID, the father of three and grandfather of six says what he’ll miss most is the “daily interactions with staff, elected officials, the governor’s office, with consumers and (insurance) companies. It’s that sort of active interaction that I’m going to miss.”
Chris Dugan is Principal at Dugan PR, where he provides strategic communications, public relations and marketing/communications support to a broad range of non-profit and for-profit clients across New Hampshire. Prior to starting his consulting practice, Chris held senior leadership communications roles at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, the American Lung Association of NH, Optima Health and St. Joseph Hospital. A New Hampshire native, Chris is an active community volunteer and is a member of the Queen City Rotary Club, where he chairs the Marketing/Public Relations Committee. He has been recognized by the American Academy for Health Services Marketing and the NewEngland Society for Health Care Communications. He is a graduate of Leadership Greater Manchester and Leadership Greater Nashua. Got a scoop? Email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.