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In Our View: Kreidler for Insurance Job

State insurance commissioner deserves re-election based on effective leadership

The Columbian
Published: October 18, 2016, 6:04am

During a time of turmoil for the insurance industry, Democrat Mike Kreidler remains the best person to serve as the state’s insurance commissioner. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a vote for Kreidler in his race against Republican Richard Schrock.

As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Columbian trusts the ability and the desire of voters to examine the issues and the candidates before casting an informed ballot.

In looking at the race for insurance commissioner, voters will find that Kreidler has served well and served effectively during four terms in office. That includes overseeing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, an implementation that will remain a crucial part of the job for whichever candidate is elected. Kreidler, in fact, has noted that he would have retired if not for the continuing challenge presented by Obamacare, and says, “We need a steady hand at the tiller as we navigate these uncharted waters.”

Kreidler is well-positioned for leading that journey. He worked for 20 years as an optometrist, has served as a legislator in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and has served as a one-term U.S. representative.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the number of Washingtonians without health insurance has dropped by about half, largely because of the expansion of Medicaid in the state. And in helping to develop the state’s health care exchange, Kreidler established firm standards for the level of care provided by insurance companies. This is one area in which Schrock takes issue with Kreidler’s performance, saying, “Whether a plan meets the needs of the consumer should be determined by the consumer.” The rules led to a lawsuit after some customers found that their new insurance policies would not cover services at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Kreidler helped negotiate agreements that brought the hospital into the insurance companies’ networks.

Schrock, who served as director of the state Department of Commerce in the 1980s, also says that Kreidler’s office has not paid enough attention to consumer protection and has not effectively handled requests for rate increases from insurance companies. “I would hold hearings on rate increases and make sure consumers are represented,” he says.

There is some validity to the criticism, and there is room for improvement in Kreidler’s office. Overall, however, he has been an effective consumer advocate while performing a difficult balancing act. He has sought to draw more insurers into the market and understands that inadequate policies for some can lead to public subsidies that result in higher costs for others. “If we look at Washington’s market, it has been more stable and has had more competition than what you see in a lot of states,” he said. “You really need to work in a collaborative fashion with the industry. This isn’t one where you can come in and play God.”

The role of insurance commissioner extends well beyond health care to life insurance and fire insurance and business insurance. But health care is the focus as the industry undergoes changes, and Kreidler emphasizes the need to look at the system holistically while assessing out-of-pocket costs in addition to premiums.

“You want an insurance commissioner who not only reads the fine print but holds companies accountable,” Kreidler said.

Mike Kreidler has done that effectively for 16 years, and The Columbian recommends a vote for him to remain in office.

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