OLYMPIA — A hearings officer, who has since been removed from hearing cases, is alleging that the chief deputy to Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler tried to improperly influence her decisions.
But Kreidler's office says that chief presiding officer Patricia Petersen was removed from cases because of a separate personnel matter that they could not discuss, The Seattle Times reported Tuesday.
Petersen filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Washington state Auditor's Office alleging that Chief Deputy Commissioner Jim Odiorne had violated state law by attempting to influence her on cases. The complaint was filed a day before her removal last Wednesday.
She also filed a notice of what she says is illegal communications by Odiorne in a case involving several insurers and Seattle Children's hospital. Seattle Children's is seeking an order requiring the insurers to include the medical center in their provider networks.
Many of the cases before Petersen have grown increasingly contentious and high-profile over the past year, particularly those involving decisions as to whether insurers' networks are adequate. While insurers are seeking to pare networks to keep costs down, providers like Seattle Children's argue that insurers cannot deliver promised care without including them.
Petersen, who is supposed to independently evaluate cases before her, has been the insurance commissioner's chief presiding officer for 19 years and decided contested cases for nine years before that.
Petersen said that Kreidler has never attempted to influence her on cases, but she wrote that beginning in September, Odiorne began pressuring her to decide cases the way Kreidler wanted.
She said Odiorne made it clear he would evaluate her on whether her decisions support the commissioner's position.
"Mr. Odiorne is clearly threatening my job if I do not enter decisions in these cases which support the Commissioner's position," Peterson wrote in the complaint.
The auditor has 15 working days to decide whether to investigate the complaint.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Kreidler says that the commissioner's office will be conducting an internal investigation of Petersen's allegations.