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Pritzker names Sen. Ann Gillespie new head of state insurance oversight agency

Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, speaking at an event in 2023. Gillespie was recently named acting director of the Illinois Department of Insurance.
Andrew Adams
Capitol News Illinois
Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, speaking at an event in 2023. Gillespie was recently named acting director of the Illinois Department of Insurance.

Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday announced a change in leadership at the agency in charge of regulating the state’s insurance industry.

State Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, will take over as acting director of the Illinois Department of Insurance starting April 15, replacing Dana Popish Severinghaus, who has held the job since 2021.

"Dana has served the state of Illinois admirably, helping protect consumers against predatory insurance practices and reforming the system to work for the people of Illinois," Pritzker said in a statement released Monday afternoon "She was a champion for Illinoisans who otherwise would have struggled to navigate vast, complex insurance systems, and I'm grateful to her for service.”

The announcement came in the middle of a legislative session in which Pritzker is proposing sweeping changes in state regulation of the health insurance industry. His proposed Health Care Protection Act calls for giving the department authority to approve or reject rate increases in the large-group insurance market.

Read more: House panel opens hearings on Pritzker’s health insurance reforms

It also calls for banning “step therapy” in prescription drug coverage as well as banning prior authorization requirements for in-patient mental health treatment.

Speaking at an unrelated news conference Tuesday, Pritzker said there was no connection between his legislative proposal and the department’s upcoming change in leadership. But he offered no additional details about what prompted the change.

“It was just that as you move along in an administration, people have spent a number of years in the positions that I've appointed them to, and it can be time for a change,” he said. “And a good time, by the way, is leaving people an opportunity to have a few years at least until the end of this term, not knowing what the next term would look like or who's running for governor, who the next governor might be, whether it's me or somebody else.”

Gillespie has served in the General Assembly since 2019, representing a portion of Chicago’ northwest suburbs. She serves on the Senate Insurance Committee and last year sponsored legislation to establish a state-based health insurance marketplace. Outside the legislature, she has worked as a health care attorney and consultant in the health care industry.

“It’s an honor to be asked to serve the state of Illinois in this new capacity, and I am eager to begin working with the Department of Insurance to make sure the system works for Illinois consumers,” she said in a statement. “My experience in the healthcare field underlies decades of advocacy and public service, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to continue that work.”

The announcement of a new director also came just as lawmakers received a new report showing the state facing a 16.5 percent increase, or $533 million, in state employee health insurance costs – the largest single-year increase in several years and one that analysts said is due in part to new coverage mandates that lawmakers have enacted in recent years.

The report did not provide details of the specific coverage mandates driving the cost increases, but it mentioned “medications not otherwise guaranteed to be covered, such as certain weight-loss medications” as being among the factors.

The report was delivered Tuesday to a meeting of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a legislative body that, among other things, monitors the state’s financial condition throughout the year and conducts oversight over its insurance programs for state employees.

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Cherry Valley, argued that the report shows Illinois has gone too far in mandating various kinds of coverage, and he warned against adopting any new mandates like those Pritzker has called for in his Health Care Protection Act proposal.

“We're making health insurance so good in Illinois that no one can afford it,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

But Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, who chairs CGFA, said in a separate interview that he supports the mandates Illinois has imposed.

“State mandates are usually done for a reason,” he said. “Those issues come before the legislature because … we're hearing a lot of issues in our communities about why those things need to change.”

Both Syverson and Koehler said they were surprised by the change in leadership at the Department of Insurance, but both said they support Gillespie’s appointment to the job.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Peter Hancock joined the Capitol News Illinois team as a reporter in January 2019.