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R.I. Senate confirms Cory King for permanent post as state health insurance commissioner

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R.I. Senate confirms Cory King for permanent post as state health insurance commissioner

Apr 02, 2024 | 7:49 pm ET
By Alexander Castro
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R.I. Senate confirms Cory King for permanent post as state health insurance commissioner
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Cory King is seen in the Rhode Island Senate chamber, shortly after his confirmation to the permanent post of commissioner of the state’s health insurance oversight agency on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (Alexander Castro/Rhode Island Current)

Cory King will continue to lead Rhode Island’s Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner (OHIC), the Rhode Island Senate confirmed in a vote on Tuesday. 

The Senate’s confirmation was nearly unanimous, with 34 votes in the affirmative. Only Sen. Susan Sosnowski, a South Kingstown Democrat, voted no. Two senators – Victoria Gu and Thomas Paolino — were not present. 

King — who has served as the office’s acting commissioner since December 2022 — was nominated to the permanent post by Gov. Dan McKee on March 21. 

The commissioner’s office is part of the Department of Business Regulation, and it is tasked with reforming and regulating commercial health insurance in the state. In last month’s announcement, McKee’s office cited two notable initiatives of King’s tenure thus far: the Health Spending Accountability and Transparency Program, which analyzes its titular topics in a bid to reduce health care costs for Rhode Islanders, as well as OHIC’s Data Hub, a publicly accessible data tool that analyzes pricing trends across a variety of health care topics — like, for example, which kinds of drugs or diagnoses tend to be most expensive to patients.

In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon before his appointment was confirmed, King said that, as permanent commissioner, he will continue to work on the five goals he set as acting commissioner. 

McKee names Cory King as state health insurance commissioner

The first goal is his office’s “core regulatory work,” while a second goal is making wider policy changes that would “support greater investment in primary care and easing administrative burden on health care providers,” King said.

A third goal is ensuring behavioral health care parity — meaning Rhode Islanders “can access their behavioral health care benefits under the same terms and conditions as physical health care benefits,” King said. “[That means] looking at insurance company compliance with their obligations under federal and state law with respect to behavioral health parity.”

Behavioral health care parity has been a hot issue in the past year, with President Joe Biden attempting to modify parity laws — changes that insurers say might have the opposite effect, and lead to a decrease in quality of and access to mental health care.  

Fourth, King identified his work on Medicaid reimbursement rates as necessary work that will certainly continue. King’s efforts so far led his office to recommend a rate hike for Medicaid providers — something McKee included in his budget for fiscal 2025

“We’ll be initiating the next cycle of Health and Human Services rate review later this year,” King said, a process he said happens every two years. The last cycle of rate reviews was completed in September 2023.

The last goal, King said, is “trying to position OHIC as a hub for data and analysis on the performance of Rhode Island’s health care system,” something which he states will resist both legislative and public understandings of health care that aren’t based in reality.  

“I think the legislature needs access to really good data, timely data, because a lot of our health care discourse in the state is driven by anecdotes and assertions, and they need to be more data driven so that we can tailor policies to address the challenges, whether that be in primary care or hospital financial performance, et cetera,” King said.

The data hub — which launched last year and was praised in McKee’s announcement of the nomination — is meant to make the complexities of the state’s health care spending more transparent and accessible to the public, King said: “So that’s a huge priority for me just to continue to position OHIC as the agency that really leads that work.”

In his motion to move for advice and consent, Sen. Joshua Miller, a Cranston Democrat, said King “has continued to make OHIC an important health policy and data resource.” That was echoed by Sen. Linda Ujifusa, a Portsmouth Democrat, who rose in support of King’s confirmation.

“We might not always agree on policy, but he has always been an incredible resource of facts and data,” Ujifusa said.

Sen. Sam Bell, a Providence Democrat, commended McKee on the appointment. Unlike last year’s nomination for Richard Charest to lead the state’s department of human services, which Bell called “really bad,” the senator was appreciative of King’s efforts thus far.  

“Commissioner King has been one of the most meaningful leaders in the McKee administration in terms of substantive policy change,” Bell said, and noted King’s “work in regulating health insurance companies — or at least the third or so we’re allowed to regulate.”

Bell praised King’s work to triple insurers’ investments in childhood behavioral health, but especially for relaxing “the really brutal hard caps rule that has crushed our hospital budgets.” 

Affordability standards in the state have received national attention for their unique approach. The caps are meant to increase insurers’ investments in primary care, and ultimately reduce health care costs at the consumer level.

“There’s still some more work to do,” Bell said. “I’d like him to be a little more critical of the insurance companies on a number of areas. But I think he’s made a truly remarkable amount of progress.” 

Democratic Sens. Pam Lauria, Lou DiPalma and Sam Zurier also rose in support of King’s confirmation, and Sens. Zurier and Valarie Lawson approached King with congratulatory handshakes following his confirmation.  

King was OHIC’s director of policy from 2019 to 2021, then chief of staff from 2021 to 2022. He then began his service as acting commissioner. The Tulane University undergrad went on to obtain a master’s in public policy from Brown University in 2013.

King’s confirmation is the third health-related post recently filled in McKee’s executive suite. Richard Leclerc was confirmed as the director of the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities on March 14. Over at the Department of Health, Staci Fischer replaced interim director Utpala Bandy on March 28. Fischer is one of three acting directors who remain in the upper reaches of Rhode Island government. The other two are Wayne T. Salisbury Jr., acting director of the Department of Corrections, and Christopher Kearns, acting commissioner of the Office of Energy Resources. 

According to the state’s open payrolls portal, King’s salary for fiscal 2024 was ​​$133,918.