OLYMPIA – Give Curt Fackler points for determination.
Four years ago, the Spokane business owner ran for state insurance commissioner on a simple platform: that the major health insurers in Washington – mostly not-for-profit companies – are collecting far more dollars than they’re likely to ever need to pay medical claims.
“We’ve been overcharged,” Fackler says, “and we should get the money back.”
If so, voters apparently weren’t listening. Fackler came in third in the three-way Republican primary. He lost by a nearly 3-to-1 margin to a Seattle insurance broker whose greatest political asset was arguably his name: John Adams.
And Adams lost to the Democratic incumbent, former Congressman Mike Kreidler.
Four years later, all three men again are facing off for the same job.
This time, however, Kreidler is campaigning on a plan to provide catastrophic health care coverage to every Washingtonian. It’s one of several universal health care plans that state legislators are considering while still hoping for bigger changes from Congress and the next president.
Rolling his plan out to lawmakers this past winter, Kreidler called it a well-grounded, workable plan that would protect people from being bankrupted by a health crisis.
“We have been tinkering with small or false solutions, playing on the margins for far too long,” he told lawmakers in February. “We need significant change.”
Here’s a look at the candidates.
A retired optometrist, Kreidler was a longtime state lawmaker and former congressman when elected state insurance commissioner in 2000.
Kreidler says he’s a strong consumer advocate, citing his office’s work to hold down insurance rate increases, speed up payouts to policyholders and take over bankrupt insurers to bring them back into the black.
Kreidler also blocked Premera/Blue Cross’s bid to convert to a for-profit company, saying it would not benefit policyholders.
But the centerpiece of his campaign is Kreidler’s “Guaranteed Health Benefit Plan.” Under it:
•All Washington residents would get catastrophic coverage for health emergencies costing more than $10,000 a year.
•Some preventative care would be covered, including annual checkups and dental visits, immunizations and cancer screenings.
•Consumers could choose additional coverage for other routine care.
•All coverage would be through private insurers. To pay for the plan, Kreidler’s calling for a payroll tax. Workers would pay 1 percent of their earnings. Small businesses would pay 3 percent of payroll; large businesses 5 percent. The tax and plan, he said, should be put before voters for approval.
Under such a plan, Kreidler predicts that premiums for routine health care would drop as much as 40 percent. And medical bankruptcies and hospitals’ costs for uncompensated care would also drop sharply.
Kreidler says the current system – with 700,000 uninsured Washingtonians and hospitals and doctors annually trying to make up $600 million in unpaid care – is “unsustainable,” he says.
For a little-known candidate who raised just $4,500 and did little campaigning, John Adams did pretty well last time. He got 41 percent of the vote to Kreidler’s 54 percent.
Adams is the owner of the Seattle General Agency, an insurance brokerage. Among his specialities: marine insurance, including yachts, hang gliding and parasailing.
On his three-page campaign Web site, Adams includes a picture of President John Adams and says that he – the Seattle Adams – “comes from an historical Massachusetts family” with a long and distinguished history of public service.
The Republican’s approach to health coverage would include limiting malpractice lawsuits, streamlining claims, buying drugs in bulk and boosting competition.
Other campaign planks include reducing business regulations and calling for a performance audit to see how the office is doing.
Adams vows to be “both an advocate for consumers and regulator/protector of the insurance industry.” His Web site is www.seattlegeneralagency.com/johnadams2008/.
Although Fackler is chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party, he decided to list no party on the ballot. That’s partly because it’s a tough time to win votes as a Republican in Washington, he said at the time. He says it’s also because he feels the post should be nonpartisan.
“Democrats, Republicans and Independents all buy insurance,” he said.
Fackler, who holds an MBA in finance, says not-for-profit insurance companies have built up unnecessary surpluses of more than $1.4 billion. That money, he said, should be repaid to policyholders. On his campaign Web site, www.curtfackler.org, he has posted charts that show dramatic growth in insurance company reserves over the past eight years.
In Olympia hearings, insurers have for years disputed the contention that their cash reserves are excessive. The economy is cyclical, they say, and the reserves are a critical cushion against unexpectedly high claims. Premera, in particular, has argued that cash on hand allows it to add customers more quickly.