This morning, State Senator Patty Kuderer announced her campaign for Washington State Insurance Commissioner. If voters elect her, she will replace the outgoing lunatic Mike Kreidler, who tarnished two decades of good work in the role by allegedly mistreating staff, reportedly using derogatory and racist language, firing a whistleblower who complained of it all, and then refused to come down after the governor and state Democratic and Republican leaders asked him to resign. In an apparent piece of damage control, Kreidler said Monday he would not seek re-election just moments after Gov. Jay Inslee said he would not seek a fourth term.
In addition to her legislative credentials and progressive vision, Kuderer said her experience as a workplace harassment attorney makes her the right candidate to restore the agency after Kreidler’s administration has sparked somewhat of a mass exodus over the past few years. She wants to get in there, look at the policies in place and “change what needs to be changed” to increase accountability, promote equity and celebrate diversity.
Although everyone except the PEMCO lobbyists fall asleep at the mere mention of the words “insurance commissioner,” the person who fills that role has a big say in deciding how serious we are about building universal health care, how much we all pay for health care meanwhile, how aggressively we regulate one of America’s most vampiric industries. Kuderer has lines for all of this.
In an interview, she said her work in the Senate on universal health care legislation in the state made her hungry for the job of insurance commissioner, but her experience with insurance companies in the first place whetted her appetite for universal health care.
She tells a pre-Obamacare horror story about a health insurance company that refused to cover certain treatments for her stillborn daughter. After fighting back and fixing that problem, she brought the child home after months in the NICU, and then the company had the audacity to say the child had reached the end of its life. Kuderer fought back and succeeded. It was nice to win twice, but she worried that non-lawyers might not achieve similar results. She now calls health insurance as a whole a “morally bankrupt industry” that must spend more of its money on paying claims than on paying administrators and pocketing profits.
To that end, as commissioner, she would like to “pursue” a single-payer regional health care system that would cover California, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii. In the state Senate, she supported bills to create a permanent committee to study the issue. Late last year, that commission released a major background report that laid out the state of the industry and laid out a road map for building the system. Many pieces need to fall into place to make this dream a reality, but one of those pieces is a compliant state insurance commissioner.
Although it is in universal health care, it is unfortunately “not in the business of strangling businesses” and aims to regulate insurers only to the extent necessary to achieve certain objectives. For her, one of those goals includes continuing to control the arms industry. If she gets the job, she promises to draft legislation to make gun owners buy insurance to cover negligence and accidents.
She cited several recent examples of people shooting youths because they knocked on the wrong door and went up the wrong alley. “Were these shootings intentional? I see some prosecutors saying yes and some saying it’s more negligence. In that case, I would like the insurance to compensate the victims,” she said. Sounds pretty fun.
She would also like to expand the Insurance Fairness Act, which sets standards for companies to operate in good faith and determines which victims can sue for damages, to apply to more situations. “For the most part, our insurance lines are healthy — I want them to say that. We need insurance, but I want to make sure consumers are treated fairly when they file a claim,” she said.
While she likes consumer advocacy on the job, she’s also willing to take on insurers, as she’s tried to do during her eight years in the Legislature. One of her bills would restrict companies from abusing “sworn reviews,” a kind of deposit that insurers use to prevent fraud. Although the insurance company has access to an attorney, the person filing the claim does not, and the company may call the claimant to testify repeatedly. Kuderer’s bill reduced the number of reviews they can conduct to two unless they have a good reason.
Another bill she supported eventually led the insurance commissioner to write an administrative rule eliminating a lucrative practice of setting property damage claims that took companies off the hook for covering labor costs.
As one of the few state senators fighting to protect renters, she also regularly runs afoul of another wealthy and particularly militant interest group: landlords. Her ability to fight them at the table and bring in profits for 40% of the state bodes well for her relationship with insurance reps who, like landlords, swear over and over that they’re just “providing” a service to help of their flock to deal with that nervous little heart that beats at the center of capitalism: risk.
Speaking of which, Kuderer won’t face much of an application to fill this role. If she wins, she becomes a powerful executive across the country. If she loses, she simply keeps her seat in the Senate. And right now she’s sitting fine. Although there are rumors of a certain person jumping to her right, she is the only one on the field. But it’s still early. We won’t be voting on this race until next year.