Northwest briefly

OLYMPIA – The state insurance commissioner is studying whether a cap on health insurance companies’ surplus cash would help lower premiums for consumers.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler held an informational meeting Thursday with industry representatives, a first step toward possible state regulations on the amount of extra money insurers can keep.

Such surpluses, the money left after nonprofit insurance companies pay expenses and claims and set aside reserve funds, have shot up in the past two years, officials said.

The state’s top three insurers, Regence BlueShield, Premera Blue Cross and Group Health Cooperative, have reported surpluses hundreds of millions of dollars larger than a few years ago.

Company representatives argued against regulations on surpluses Thursday, saying the cushions are needed to cover unexpected disasters.

Associated Press

King County: Avoid Wal-Mart, unions say

The teachers unions for two Eastside school districts are urging their members to do their holiday shopping somewhere other than at Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club stores.

The message is another salvo in the ongoing efforts of labor interests to discourage shopping at Wal-Mart because of the retail giant’s low wages and corporate policies, which critics say harm employees, their families and their communities.

“Take Wal-Mart off your holiday shopping list” urges a newsletter recently mailed by the Lake Washington Education Association to its members in Kirkland and Redmond schools.

The Bellevue Education Association sent a similar message in a recent e-mail newsletter to members. Officials for associations representing other districts on the Eastside and in south King County say they also ask members to consider shopping at stores other than Wal-Mart.

Officials for the teachers groups say they’re not calling for a boycott. A boycott, they say, implies an organized campaign encouraging people to stay away from Wal-Mart. Instead, they’re recommending that members look at “more responsible” retailers that offer better wages and benefits.

King County Journal

Vancouver: Man steals, sells Christmas trees

For 103 years, customers seeking specialty foods have shopped at Strohecker’s Market. During the holidays, they can pick up a Christmas tree and a fine wine on the same visit.

Last weekend, a former Clark County firefighter intern allegedly tried to start his own holiday tradition. Portland police officials say Evan Christopher Dean, 30, stole 18 Christmas trees from Strohecker’s and started selling them a block from his home in Portland, Ore.

Police found Dean standing with the trees Monday, Sgt. Brian Schmautz said, “trying not to be noticed.”

Dean reportedly told police he was raising money for a Clark County fire district. His patch bore the name and insignia of District 3. But District 3 wasn’t selling trees or anything else in downtown Portland, said District 3 Deputy Chief Scott Sorenson.

Police recovered 14 trees still bearing Strohecker’s tags. Four apparently had been sold.

Dean was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree theft by receiving, criminal impersonation and disorderly conduct.

The Columbian

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