Insurance race pits two political veterans

By REBECCA COOK

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — In the race for state Insurance Commissioner, it’s the eye doctor vs. the dentist.

Both candidates hope to bring healing to the Insurance Commissioner’s Office, where outgoing Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn has made friends and plenty of enemies with her battle-ready approach to consumer protection.

Experience is a campaign theme for both Republican Don Davidson, a dentist and former Bellevue mayor, and Democrat Mike Kreidler, an Olympia optometrist and former congressman.

Davidson derisively calls Kreidler a "retread politician." Kreidler, who served in Congress from 1993-1995, shoots back that Davidson’s attacks are "a reflection of not having a real idea of what needs to be done in the Insurance Commissioner’s Office."

On specific issues, the two men often agree.

Both say restoring the individual insurance market is a top priority. Both agree the next insurance commissioner must restore the state’s accreditation with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which Senn let lapse. And while they praise Senn’s focus on consumer protection, both say they would take a more conciliatory tone and build better relationships with insurance companies.

"She took an attitude into that office that I think is inappropriate for anyone who’s regulating a private industry," Davidson said at a recent Association of Washington Business debate. "We have to look at this as a partnership between consumers and the industry."

Kreidler took every opportunity to emphasize his consensus-building skills at the same forum. "That’s one of my strong suits," he said. "I’ve done it for years in the Legislature."

They do have different priorities. One of Davidson’s is an ambitious one: He wants to overhaul the 1993 legislation that set rules for health insurance in the state.

The Legislature this year changed some of those rules in an effort to make it easier for companies to sell insurance policies to individuals. But Davidson thinks the Legislature needs to go further.

"Instead of just amending it, what we need to do is get the insurance carriers, the consumers and the providers all sitting down together, redo the legislation and bring it forward with a public-private partnership," he said.

Kreidler, on the other hand, supported the 1993 legislation. He said the top priority now is not going back to the drawing board, but making sure the changes are actually working, and not hurting consumers.

"We’re going to have to monitor that very closely," Kreidler said. "There’s going to be some hard work to be done of making sure we actually have restored the market."

Kreidler’s proposal for a prescription drug discount program illustrates some differences between the candidates.

In May he proposed a program that would use bulk purchasing power to provide discounts on medication. Any state resident could join for a yearly fee of about $20. The state would contract with a private pharmaceutical benefits program, which would negotiate lower prices on medication for members.

Gov. Gary Locke stole some of Kreidler’s thunder in August when he announced a similar program for seniors. But Kreidler said his all-ages plan is still possible, with the Legislature’s approval.

"I have had success at taking innovative ideas like that and getting them through the Legislature," Kreidler said, pointing to his sponsorship of the Generic Drug Act while in the Legislature. "One of the challenges is not to look just inside the box."

Davidson criticizes both Locke’s and Kreidler’s plans as "having the government step in and run drugstores," and says there are private programs already offering the same discounts.

Davidson said the insurance commissioner should help consumers get information about how to get cheaper prescriptions, but should not get directly involved.

"To have state-run programs, I think it’s going in the wrong direction," Davidson said. "I would rather leave it in the private sector’s hands if possible."

Kreidler said he hasn’t seen evidence of the private sector meeting this need.

"If it can be done through the private sector, amen, do it. But it hasn’t happened," he said.

In part due to his political history in the state, Kreidler has an edge in fund-raising. He has raised and spent more than twice the money Davidson has. According to the most recent public disclosure reports, Kreidler has raised $171,184 and spent $162,491, while Davidson has raised $76,961 and spent $70,280.

Davidson and Kreidler both swept past primary challenges, Davidson with 29 percent of the vote and Kreidler with 33 percent. Liberterian Michael Hihn, a Tukwila water commissioner, got 4 percent, enough to land him a spot on the general election ballot.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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