Obamacare remains an issue in race for Washington’s Insurance Commissioner

Insurance rates are going up, although not as fast as they were before the law went into effect.

Among statewide elected officials, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler may have had the easiest re-election campaigns the last 12 years — three campaigns against a little-known Republican who never spent more than $5,000 trying to beat him.

This year, Democrat Kreidler’s challenger is different, but Republican Richard Schrock also has yet to raise more than $5,000 or conduct a vigorous statewide campaign to win the job of keeping tabs on Washington’s insurance industry.

Schrock, who was director of the state Department of Commerce in the early 1980s, is a part-time communications consultant who serves on the Snohomish County Fire District 1 Commission. He said recently he got into the race on the last day the state was accepting filings from potential candidates because he believed “Kreidler deserved to have an opponent.”

They constitute the oldest matchup for statewide office. Kreidler turns 73 next week, and Schrock turns 72 in October.

First elected to the office in 2000, Kreidler is a licensed optometrist, former legislator and congressman who has overseen the state’s transition to federal mandates to expand health insurance coverage. He and Schrock differ on the outcome of that change, and even on what they call it. Kreidler uses the official Affordable Care Act; Schrock uses the more familiar term considered derogatory by some, Obamacare.

“I think Obamacare is collapsing,” Schrock said recently. “It’s destroyed the individual health insurance market in the state. Small businesses, including farmers, are unable to get plans that are what they want.”

The numbers don’t support the idea that it’s collapsing, Kreidler counters. Before 2014, when the law took effect, nine companies offered health insurance in the state; now there are 13. Those companies also offer a greater variety of coverage plans, although they don’t offer some of the least expensive plans that didn’t provide some coverage required by federal law, like maternity care and prescription drugs, he said.

Insurance rates are going up, although not as fast as they were before the law went into effect, he said. In the first two years of the ACA, insurance companies just were guessing what their costs would be. Now they have hard data, and some costs are higher than expected. As commissioner, he can’t order insurance companies to lose money.

Schrock said the state should expand the list of health care providers insurance companies must offer to their customers. Seattle Children’s Hospital sued the state in 2013 when it was not included in plans on Washington HealthPlanFinder, the health insurance exchange. “I’m going to insist the service provider lists are broader,” he said.

But Kreidler said Children’s Hospital was quoting rates that were more expensive for some services than other hospitals, clinics or doctor’s offices. “If you want to dictate to the insurers and say you have to have this very broad list, you’re going to ensure people have to pay more for their policies,” he said.

The Affordable Care Act needs improvements, Kreidler said. He hopes after President Obama leaves office next year Republicans in Congress will stop trying to repeal it without a real plan to replace it, and work with Democrats on fixes.

Schrock predicted Obamacare “as we’ve known it” will be gone in 2018, but he couldn’t say what should be put in its place. “Beyond Obamacare is up to elected officials that set the policy,” he said.

In the primary, Kreidler collected 58 percent of the vote, with big margins in most Puget Sound-area counties. Schrock had 34 percent, winning most Eastern Washington counties except Spokane. The incumbent has raised $99,000 but spent less than a fourth of that, according to the latest Public Disclosure Commission reports. The challenger has loaned his campaign $2,500, and his only listed contribution so far is $300 from the Cowlitz County Republican Women’s Club.

Schrock said he doesn’t plan a big advertising blitz but will rely instead on a “grass-roots effort.” But what some would consider a key to that effort, a campaign website at the address he listed in the state Voters Guide, wasn’t up and running Thursday.