Washington Not Likely to Focus Much on P/C Agents in 2009

By Robert Wolz | November 16, 2008

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, the 64-year-old Democrat, easily won his third term as Washington state insurance commissioner, defeating Republican John Adams, who owns a Seattle-based insurance brokerage firm 57 percent to 43 percent.

Kreidler was always considered a likely winner. He won the endorsement of the Seattle Times with the caveat that he should have been tougher on some of the state’s major health insurers, Premera, Regence and Group Health specifically, that had “piled up surpluses by the hundreds of millions,” in recent years. Kreidler held a hearing and commissioned a study but allowed rates to increase leading the Times to suggest that health insurance rates were not as competitive as the people had a right to expect.

However, the Times applauded Kreidler for fighting back when Premera wanted to convert to a stock company and sell shares on Wall Street. He won after considerable expense what the Times called “a huge victory for consumers.”

Kreidler, a former Democratic congressman, campaigned on a pledge to focus on consumer protection and a proposal to offer all citizens at least high-deductible health insurance coverage, paid for with a payroll tax. So it comes as no surprise that Kreidler has made health insurance his No. 1 legislative priority for 2009. In fact, Kreidler has spent much of his current term advocating for he what he calls guaranteed health care coverage for all Washington residents for health care costs over $10,000.

Observers say Kreidler’s catastrophic health care plan is modeled after the Massachusetts programs, although it does include some preventative services. However the plan has not been drafted into legislative language so it remains to be seen how the commissioner will implement his concept.

Although the democrats increased their numbers in both houses, the state’s budget deficit coupled with the governor’s pledge not to raise taxes makes it difficult to figure out how Kreidler will pay for his program.

It is widely expected that Kreidler will focus his efforts on health insurance. However, as an active member of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), Kreidler is deeply committed to improving administrative procedure for licensing agents and brokers. Currently, he is looking to revise licensing requirements for surplus line brokers consistent with those applicable to producers. His office is working with the Surplus Lines Association of Washington on language.

Insurance Brokers and Agents of the West (IBA West) supports the commissioner’s efforts to revise the Washington Administrative Code to increase efficiency and more closely align Washington regulations to other states.

As this writing, based on the Office of Insurance Commissioner’s legislative agenda, the outlook for 2009 is not likely to focus very much on property and casualty agents beyond administrative matters such as licensing. However, as the U.S. financial crisis deepens and more insurers are drawn in, anything could happen.

About Robert Wolz

Robert Wolz, ARM is based in Seattle and serves as the Pacific Northwest Chapter Director on the IBA West Board of Directors. IBA West (www.ibawest.com) is a producer association in the West for insurance brokers and agents, representing more than 1,000 firms in California, Washington, Oregon and Alaska and more than 14,000 insurance professionals. IBA West is affiliated In California with the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA).

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