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Insurance commissioner candidate wants to cut red tape to lower costs

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(The Center Square) – Up until candidate filing week in May, state Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, had been contemplating a run for secretary of state. Potential donors to that statewide campaign encouraged him to use his legislative experience and change direction.

“The Office of Insurance Commissioner, more than any other, has a direct impact on Washingtonians’ ability to put food on their table,” Fortunato said during an interview in Spokane earlier this month.

Democrat Mike Kreidler has served as Insurance Commissioner since 2000. Eight candidates have filed for the Aug. 6 primary, including a fellow legislator, state Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue.

Washington residents spent almost $59 million dollars on insurance products in 2022, and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner is the watchdog in charge.

For Washington families facing double-digit rate increases and post-disaster policy cancellations, it’s a usually obscure office that may feel more relevant this year.

“This particular race is the sleeper that nobody pays attention to but has the single biggest impact on your family budget,” Fortunato said. “The majority of what the Insurance Commissioner does is govern by rule-making authority. You don’t have to go through the Legislature, don’t need to have the governor’s signature to have significant impact.”

Fortunato cited the office’s failure to review rate increases in a timely manner as a major reason people were seeing double-digit percentage jumps in premiums this year.

“Other states have a system of file and use,” Fortunato said. “Companies file their rate increases annually as costs rise, they use it to charge premiums the next year, and the OIC reviews the rates later and can mandate refunds if they find a problem.”

He described the delay as leading companies to request larger increases to catch up on losses, in addition to trying to anticipate how long the review will be delayed in the next application.

Fortunato sees reducing regulation as the way to curb rising insurance costs, favoring a careful cost-benefit analysis.

“We have a series of healthcare regulations under the guise of protecting the consumer and the end result is running up the cost to the consumer and blaming the insurance companies,” he said.

On the subject of reproductive healthcare, Fortunato said he happens to be pro-life but has no intention of forcing his views on anyone else.

“The office has a tremendous amount of power in its rulemaking authority. You can benefit people within 30 days of being elected or in the case of my opponent, you can hurt people,” he said, referring to Kuderer.

He cited Kuderer’s sponsorship of Senate Bill 5963 as an example of his colleague’s approach to exercising regulatory authority. The bill, which failed to move out of committee, would have required mandatory homeowner’s insurance with excess liability coverage for anyone owning and storing a firearm in a residence.

Also filing for the race are Democrats Bill Boyd, Chris Chung and John Pestinger; Republican Justin Murta; and Jonathan Hendrix and Tim Verzal, who indicate no party preference.

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