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Mon., Feb. 3, 2014, 12:50 p.m.

WA Lege Day 22: An unelected insurance commissioner?

OLYMPIA -- Clashes over Obamacare helped spawn a  proposal to end Washington state's 65-year-old system of electing an insurance commissioner, replacing it with an appointed board who would select someone for the job.

Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville and the chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, described her bill as a way to get broader representation in the office, with a 10-member board assuming the powers and responsibilities of the current commissioner, who is elected every four years. Each of the Legislature's four political caucuses would nominate three people, and the governor would select ten, making sure that the board includes at least one consumer advocate, one insurance expert, one small business representative and one economist or actuary. Other groups would also have to be represented on the board.

The board would then hire someone as the insurance commissioner.

Such a board would provide "a much more open approach of how we deal with health care," said Becker, who was critical of a decision by current Commissioner Mike Kreidler not to allow low-cost, high-deductible plans in the state that didn't have some basic services covered by the Affordable Care Act. 

Kate Nichols, who lost a plan that she said worked for her family, contended that having a person at the top without anyone to review his or her decisions increases the possibility the commissioner will make a mistake.

But others said the commissioner's performance is reviewed every four years, by voters. Becker's proposal would make the commissioner accountable to an unelected board and increase the bureaucracy.

"The insurance commissioner is accountable to the citizens and the Legislature," Mary Clogston of AARP said. "He can only enforce the laws that you write."

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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