This morning, state Sen. Patty Kuderer announced her campaign for Washington state Insurance Commissioner. If voters elect her, she'll replace outgoing goober Mike Kreidler, who tarnished two decades of good work in that role by allegedly mistreating staff, reportedly using derogatory and racist language, firing a whistleblower who complained about all that, and then refusing to step down after the Governor and state Democratic and Republican leaders asked him to resign. In an obvious bit of damage control, on Monday Kreidler said he wouldn't seek reelection only moments after Governor Jay Inslee said he wouldn't run for a fourth term.
In addition to her legislative bonafides and progressive vision, Kuderer said her experience as a lawyer dealing with workplace harassment makes her the right candidate to rebuild the agency after Kreidler's management prompted somewhat of an exodus over the last couple 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.
Though everyone except for PEMCO lobbyists falls 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 standing up a universal health care system, how much we all pay for health care in the meantime, and how aggressively we regulate one of the most vampiric industries in America. Kuderer's got lines on all of that.
In an interview, she said her work in the Senate on statewide universal health care legislation made her hungry for the insurance commissioner job, but her experience with insurance companies whetted her appetite for universal health care in the first place.
She tells a pre-Obamacare horror story of a health insurance company declining to cover certain treatments for her stillborn daughter. After fighting back and settling that issue, she brought the kid home following months in the neonatal intensive care unit, and then the company had the gall to say the kid had reached her lifetime cap. Kuderer fought back again and succeeded. It was nice to win twice, but she worried that non-lawyers might not achieve similar results. Now, she calls health insurance in general "a morally bankrupt industry" that should spend more of its money paying claims than paying administrators and pocketing profits.
To that end, as commissioner she'd want to "pursue" a regional single-payer health care system, looping in California, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii. In the state Senate, she backed bills to create a permanent commission to study the issue. Late last year, that commission published a big baseline report that lays out the status of the industry and presents a roadmap for building the system. Lots of pieces need to fall into place to make that dream a reality, but one of those pieces is an amenable state insurance commissioner.
Though she's into universal health care, she's unfortunately "not into strangling businesses," and she only aims to regulate insurers to the extent necessary to meet certain goals. For her, one of those goals involves continuing to rein in the gun industry. If she gets the job, she promises to draw up legislation to make gun-owners buy insurance to cover negligence and accidents.
She mentioned a couple recent examples of people shooting youths for knocking on the wrong door and driving up the wrong driveway. "Were those shootings intentional? I can see some prosecutors saying yes, and I could see some saying it was more of a negligence situation. In that case, I'd want to see insurance compensate the victims," she said. Sounds kinda fun.
She'd also like to expand the Insurance Fair Conduct Act, which sets standards for companies to operate in good faith and determines which victims can claim damages, to apply to more situations. "For the most part, our insurance lines are healthy—I want them to say that way. We need insurance, but I want to make sure consumers are treated fairly when they make a claim," she said.
Though she likes the consumer advocacy side of the job, she's also prepared to take on insurers, as she has tried to do during her eight years in the Legislature. One of her bills restricted companies from abusing "examinations under oath," a sort of deposition insurers use to prevent fraud. Though the insurance company enjoys access to a lawyer, the person filing the claim does not, and the company can call the claimant to testify multiple times. Kuderer's bill reduced the number of examinations they could hold to two, unless they had a good reason.
Another bill she backed ultimately led to the Insurance Commissioner writing an administrative rule eliminating a lucrative practice for determining property damage claims that got companies off the hook for covering labor costs.
As one of the few state Senators who fights for renter protections, she has also routinely squared up against another moneyed and particularly militant interest group: landlords. Her ability to wrestle them at the table and bring home wins for 40% of the state bodes well for her dealings with insurance reps who, like landlords, swear up and down that they merely "provide" a service to help their flock manage that nervous little heart beating at the center of capitalism: risk.
Speaking of which, Kuderer won't face much of it running to fill this role. If she wins, she becomes a powerful statewide executive. If she loses, then she just keeps her seat on the Senate. And right now, she's sitting pretty. Though there's rumors of a certain someone jumping to her right, she's the only one on the field. But it's early yet. We won't vote on this race until next year.