Insuring retreat

"The insurance industry already trusts me. How do we get the public to trust them? We need less politics and partisanship. The temperature has to come down in this state."

"Divergent interests have to sit down together. The political process is achieving what is possible."

Hey, believe it or not, these quotes are from the Democrats in the race for insurance commissioner! (The former from John Conniff, currently a deputy insurance commissioner, the latter from ex-Congressman Mike Kreidler.)

With Deborah Senn stepping down as insurance commissioner to run for the US Senate, Olympia's debate over health care is mellowing. Where Senn was a feisty, in-your-face consumer advocate, even the Democratic candidates hoping to replace her are talking about mending fences with the insurance industry.

John Conniff is a beefy, brainy bureaucrat. He's spent 19 years in Olympia, the first 12 as staff for the House of Representatives, the last seven working for Senn. As a consequence, he has trouble translating his ideas from bureaucratese into English. After spending an hour with him, I'm still not sure what he thinks the health insurance crisis is or what we should do about it. But he sure says some scary shit: "Health care costs will increase 50 percent or more in the next biennium. It's real easy to say it's the insurance companies' [fault]." Instead of blaming the insurance companies, Conniff thinks the Commish's office should try to "reduce the cost of bureaucracy."

He also says the state Legislature's attempt to address the individual health care market was a complete failure. Washington's insurance companies have abandoned people who don't get insurance through their jobs but have to buy policies as individuals. The insurers just plain stopped selling new policies. The Legislature cried uncle and passed some new law that purported to bring the individual market back. Conniff predicts the new law won't bring the insurers back at all—it's too convoluted.

Ex-Congressman Mike Kreidler is no fan of the Legislature's "solution" to the individual market crisis, either. "They gave the insurance industry way too much. I wouldn't have voted for it," he says. Foremost among his concerns: The new bill takes away the insurance commissioner's ability to regulate costs of new individual policies (Senn was always pissing off the industry by denying them rate increases). Kreidler gets points for candor because he admitted, "I don't have the solution." Yet, he seemed to believe we should vote for him because he's Mike Kreidler—an articulate, silver-haired, smooth politico. Kreidler started out as an optometrist for Group Health, served 16 years in the state Legislature, one term in Congress, and lately has been working for the feds as Regional Director of the Department of Health and Human Services. The one specific idea he offers, a state-run drug-purchasing co-op to help with the runaway costs of prescription medicines, certainly seems like a slam dunk.

But hey, who's gonna talk trash to the insurance companies when Deb departs?

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