The race for the Insurance Commissioner’s Office in Washington State might not be getting as much attention compared to other election races. But whoever wins the office will face a huge undertaking in the coming years as the state embarks on the next major phase of the national health care law. Ruby de Luna reports on the candidates and their views of the office’s role in the Affordable Care Act.
The challenge before the office is to usher in an estimated 800,000 uninsured people into the health insurance market. Washington is moving forward with its Health Benefit Exchange. The exchange is an online program for families and small businesses to shop for health plans.
Incumbent Mike Kreidler says he’d like to continue the work that was started when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. He says there’s a lot more that needs to be done.
“We have essential health benefits to decide, we will be playing a key role in consumer complaints and helping people navigate the new system of health care reform," Kreidler says. "All of that will fall to our office and that needs to be in place.”
Kreidler, a Democrat, is running for a fourth term. He was an optometrist at Group Health in Olympia. He was a regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Kreidler is the only candidate without an insurance background. Challenger John Adams is an insurance broker, mainly in marine insurance. This will be his second try for the Insurance Commissioner’s Office. He says if elected he wants to bring more insurers into the exchange.
Right now, there are three major carriers that offer health plans for individuals and small businesses. He says the state needs more competition so customers have choices.
“When you have a small number of companies, that’s a monopoly, and I’ve never seen a monopoly give you a good deal,” Adams says.
That’s a sentiment echoed by the other candidates. Scott Reilly has been training insurance agents for more than 20 years. He says he wants to create a business-friendly environment to encourage more companies to do business here.
“The way companies go about becoming authorized in Washington is complex and I want to streamline that to see that consumers have greater choices and have more products available.”
Reilly touts his experience in the industry, and his deep knowledge of the regulations.
Both Reilly and Adams are Republicans. Challenger Brian Berend is running as an Independent because he thinks the insurance commissioner’s office should be non-partisan.
Berend owns an insurance agency in Auburn. He’s been in the industry for 30 years. He says if elected, he would make sure the health benefit exchange is user-friendly and accessible. That includes reaching out to people who may not have internet access.
“I would also like to see in some of our rural areas in Washington state weekend kiosks that could be set up in shopping malls or libraries or other public venues where we could have multi-lingual volunteers and staff being able to communicate with the citizens and go through the material with them,” Berend says.
Whoever is elected to the Office of Insurance Commissioner has a tight deadline. The state expects the Health Benefit Exchange to be up and running by next fall.
Copyright 2012 KUOW.