WA: Little Support Voiced for Sen. Becker’s Bill to Scrap OIC

Senate Health Care Committee Chair Randi Becker, R-Eatonville

Senate Health Care Committee Chair Randi Becker, R-Eatonville

The Senate Health Care Committee held its first hearing this week on a bill sponsored by its chair, Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, which would eliminate the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC), an elected position, and replace it with a board of political appointees and a director appointed by the board.

The bill, SB 6458, has a dozen co-sponsors—all Republicans except Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina.

But based on the testimony presented at the hearing, there appear to be few organizations coming out in support.

Becker explained that her motivation for introducing the bill was to start a discussion about how to make the OIC more responsive to public concerns about its policies and actions.

She said she has been hearing complaints from constituents for several years that they feel the OIC has not been listening to their concerns.

Becker is proposing to replace the Insurance Commissioner with a board whose members would be appointed by the legislature–the same way that members of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board have been appointed. The board, in turn, would appoint a director.

“This, to me, is creating an environment where people have a broader sense of representation,” she said.

But the testimony at the hearing was overwhelmingly against the bill.

Those who testified in opposition included representatives of AARP of Washington, the Washington State Labor Council, Optometric Physicians of Washington, the American Cancer Society and Cancer Action Network, SEIU Healthcare 775, and the Washington State Association for Justice.

All of those groups representatives said they feared that replacing an elected official with an unelected board would result in less responsiveness to public concerns, not more.

One person, a private citizen who said the OIC did not respond to her concerns about losing prescription drug coverage, testified in support.

The bill is scheduled for executive session in the Senate Health Care Committee on Feb. 6.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said Becker’s bill is “tailor-made for the insurance industry to have its way with consumer protections at the expense of the public.”

No representatives from the insurance industry offered testimony on the bill during the hearing.