OLYMPIA, Wash. – Today at 10 a.m., a state Senate committee takes up a bill to do away with the elected office of Washington State Insurance Commissioner and replace it with a 10-member insurance board appointed by the legislature and governor. The board would include representatives of the insurance industry, small business and consumers.
Mike Kreidler, who has been the insurance commissioner since 2000, said creating such a board would give insurance companies an edge in setting policy – or slowing any changes that don’t benefit them.
“The more that they can muzzle the Insurance Commissioner’s office from doing its sworn duty to protect consumers, they’re going to be in favor of it. And sometimes, inaction is exactly what they want to have happen,” Kreidler noted.
Twelve of the 13 senators sponsoring the bill are Republicans. Kreidler, who is a Democrat, said he sees their effort as part of a larger, national trend to hamstring the Affordable Care Act, and he added that insurance commissioners regulate all types of insurance, not just health coverage.
The bill was assigned to the Senate Health Committee, although big changes to a state office are typically heard in the Government Operations Committee. The Health Committee chair is also the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Randi Becker, Eatonville. She has criticized Kreidler for not allowing existing health insurance policies to be extended for another year during the Affordable Care Act’s rocky rollout.
Kreidler agreed that it hasn’t been an easy ride, in many states.
“It has introduced more controversy for Insurance Commissioners, even internally among themselves, but also for legislators, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, in ways that we haven’t seen in the past. Hopefully, that’s something that goes away as people become more comfortable with the Affordable Care Act, going forward,” Kreidler said.
The bill’s sponsors have said a 10-member insurance board would run much like the current health insurance exchange, and could mean more oversight of the insurance industry in Washington. Kreidler said if his office is not providing sufficient oversight, he can simply be voted out.
SB 6458 is available at http://apps.leg.wa.gov.