ALBUQUERQUE — Russell Toal was unanimously voted by a state board Saturday to head New Mexico’s Office of the Superintendent of Insurance.

Toal, 67, will help regulate insurance across the state. His start date is Jan. 1. He has served as deputy secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department since January. He also served as commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Community Health and oversaw Georgia’s Medicaid program.

“I think there’s very good things to be done in this office,” said Toal, adding that one of his goals is to make the agency more forward facing by meeting with advocacy groups across the state.

The nine-member board that selected the superintendent had four members appointed by the Legislature, four others appointed by the governor and an elected chairwoman.

After 6½ hours of interviews, the committee discussed candidates and reached a decision in 30 minutes. Diane Denish, the committee chairwoman and a former lieutenant governor, said Toal had the most experience in management and team building.

“It was not hard to reach a consensus at all,” she said.

Toal was one of eight candidates. Two of the original 10 candidates withdrew their applications. One of those withdrawals was John Franchini, who has run the office since its start in 2013. Franchini announced his retirement instead of seeking another four-year term. Franchini had 35 years of experience in the insurance industry before starting at the state in July 2010 when the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission managed insurance.

In 2013, voters supported a constitutional amendment to create an independent office to regulate insurance. Some of the duties of the office include enforcing the insurance code, conducting investigations and preventing unfair trade practices. Franchini was appointed to head the office until 2015 and was nominated again in a public process for a four-year term in 2016.

The office has faced serious challenges in recent years. In 2017, New Mexico Medical Society presidents filed a suit over the superintendent’s decision to let hospitals and outpatient facilities pay malpractice liability out of a state fund.

The office also has come under fire for failing to collect premium taxes owed to the agency by health insurance companies to the tune of nearly $65 million.

New legislation put the Tax and Revenue Department in charge of the collection duties, a move Toal said he supports.

“An agency shouldn’t be taking money from the entities it licenses or regulates,” he said.

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